Waikato-Tainui’s asset base is now $1.1 billion. Since receiving its long-awaited $170 million Waitangi Treaty settlement in 1995, the iwi (tribe) has embarked on a range of enterprises to build wealth. (Turn on captions for this video segment from Te Karere for the English translation).
There are still critics of the settlement process that follows in the wake of the sometimes forced, often deceptive, alienation of Māori from their land in the second half of the 19th Century. In the 1860s, following the invasion of the Waikato by colonial forces, more than 480,000 hectares of land were confiscated, including some of the most fertile land in the country. If Tainui had been able to hold on to its land, its asset value now would dwarf the billion-dollar result.
The main imperative for Treat of Waitangi settlements is justice, but a second imperative is apparent. Not just for Māori, but for all New Zealanders, rebuilding the Māori asset base is one of the smartest things that we can do.
One reason I’m excited about this, is my wife is of Tainui descent. But I am also excited because organisations such as Waikato-Tainui can be regarded as social enterprises. They exist to generate benefits for their people. Dividends from iwi and commercial activities are distributed to their 68 Marae. Unlike corporates, the fruit of their economic activities, remains with their people. It is still early days in Tainui’s economic renaissance, thus requiring the reinvestment of surpluses, but over time the flow of funds back to the people should only increase. Social enterprises have asset-locks to ensure assets are not bought-out and privatised. That will not happen with Tainui.
From the taxpayer’s perspective, Tainui is producing a return on the settlement that should only increase over time, and is delivering benefits to its people, including scholarships. Ngai Tahu in the South Island have achieved equally impressive results. As the Treaty settlement process rolls on I look forward to seeing other Iwi achieve similar results.