Sustainable Futures with Māori Land

Dr Pita Sharples – Distinction Hotel; Rotorua

There is one place in the world to which I will always return.

From the old pā site at Horehore, I can trace my descent back over 46 generations to Tararoa.

When I stand at that site, on the range just East of Takapau, the range we know as Ngahinaki-a-Tarawhata, I know my connection through to Toi Kairakau   That connection lives within me, my history, my genealogy, my identity.

Over the generations the whakapapa flows through to Te Rangikoianake; and then to Te Kikiri o te Rangi.  As time leads on there is Kanohituhanga, Te Aroatua, Hori Niania, to Paora Kopakau, and finally to Ruiha Niania, my mother.

This is my story; my ancestry, my bonding to this sense of place.

It is this intimate connection which gives me my knowledge of what it is to be tangata whenua.

We are the people of this land.  We are born of this land.

In the whakatauakī, waiata and whakapapa of our various iwi and hapū, we identify ourselves by the relationships our tupuna formed with the lands from whence we came.

It is a relationship which transcends arguments of ownership in a commodity sense; a relationship which reinforces a sense of belonging shared between those who have passed on, the living and those yet to be born.

It is a connection which has been sustained for over a thousand years; a connection which will be sustained into the next thousand years to come.

It is a sacred connection; represented through the dual meanings of whenua to both nourish the people, and to nurture the growing new life of the unborn child.

That connection is never more clearly expressed than in the burial of the whenua and the pito back into the warmth of one’s ancestral land.

It is the link we make back to Hineahuone, the first woman, formed from clay at Kurawaka by Tāne, a son of Papatūānuku.

Our greatest challenge – not just at this conference but throughout our life – is to know that when Papatūānuku welcomes us back into her embrace, will we return to her knowing that we have fulfilled our responsibility?

This forum is an important moment in time to reflect on how well we have upheld our collective responsibility to exercise kaitiakitanga over the whenua and all other natural resources which spring from within.

‘Sustainable futures with Māori land’ is about people sustaining the land, and the land sustaining the people, into the future.

Just as we look to the land to reaffirm our place in this world and give us our sense of identity we must look within ourselves for the solutions for our development as a people.

It is about development that is economically, socially, culturally and environmentally sustainable, down through generations.

Over the course of this conference, you will have heard various perspectives on governance structures; on resource utilisation and productivity; or on the growth of Māori land utilising cooperatives.

You have considered the relationship of tikanga Māori and the capacity to protect and preserve taonga tuku iho.

The utilisation of geothermal resources has been a particular focus; as has the use of tools such as land visualisation methods.

And of course an ever current theme is that of the impacts of climate change.

The new themes, new techniques are but echoes of the way we have always sought to protect and preserve our whenua rangatira.

In previous times, the, protection and control of land depended on the capacity of tāngata whenua to defend territory, while at the same time maintaining their tikanga for managing the land and natural resources sustainably.

It was about being at one with the land – respecting relationships with neighbours, creating economic self-sufficiency; modelling strong leadership – all aspects of rangatiratanga.

Into that environment the impact of colonisation, the fragmentation of the land, the cultural and legal dispossession of tāngata from their whenua had severe consequences for our future.

Survival, itself, was threatened by the fragmentation of land ownership.   People who lost links with their land often lostcontact with each other.

The pervasive impact of the colonial project is with us today – indeed much of the focus of this week’s visit of the United Nations Special Rapporteur, Professor James Anaya, is to provide an analysis of the current status of the indigenous peoples of this land.

Without giving anything anyway, I know that what he will find from iwi to iwi our trademark is resilience; flexibility and responsiveness.

It is these factors which have come to the fore in recent years – expressed in the cultural revitalisation of te reo me ōna tikanga, and a resurgence of the political strength of Māori communities.

This hui has exploded with examples of these qualities, as exhibited in the management of existing landholdings.

The growing value of assets has created greater opportunities to develop land and natural resources in new and enterprising ways.  An emerging trend has been the coming together of people in the collective interests of sustaining the whenua for generations to come.

Just last week we saw the Bay of Plenty Regional Council coming together with Whakatohea, Upokorehe and the seller to keep a

6.5 hectare property in local hands.  The land is located above the Ohiwa Harbour and is the site of Onekawa Pā – one of the region’s most culturally significant sites.  In a week in which an American futures trader has flown in to Aotearoa to purchase a Marlborough Sounds farm for close to eight million, it is really great to see our own locally determined solutions coming to the table.

In Taranaki, Parininihi ki Waitotara Incorporation came about as result of determination of the owners to take control of the land that was left to them. Following changes to the Māori Reserved Land Act, PKW has purchased back the perpetual leases of around 2000 acres since 1998.

And in Gisborne, the 2009 winner of Ahuwhenua Trophy; Pakarae Whangara B5 Partnership was formed from the combination of two neighbouring farms.

A major goal of their Partnership Board is to see Ngāti Konohi lands and people brought back together.  The Board Chair, Ingrid Collins, said:

“We guard our land ferociously.  It is our taonga tuku iho.

Our overriding aim is to ensure its sustainability, its development and its availability to mokopuna for generations to come and for the benefit of all our shareholders”.

As part of their long term view, the Board is committed to succession planning and investing in their rangatahi.

What these examples show us is that for tāngata whenua, sustainability is not just about maximising profit; it’s about maximising the benefit to the people.

A focus on indicators of genuine progress, such as environmental sustainability, community involvement, and tikanga, might lead us for example, towards niche production of organic food, or local processing of the produce as Ngāti Hine Health has demonstrated.

This wider picture of iwi/hapū cultural and economic sustainability is also part of the rationale why we established Māra kai, as one of the projects from the Māori Economic Taskforce.  In essence, the funding helps to meet the establishment costs of setting up small non-commercial māra kai on marae and in Māori communities as well as reviving traditional gardening practices and promoting healthier eating.

What I have been doing, in my role as Minister of Māori Affairs, is ensuring that we can continue to maintain our relationship with the land through any variety of means, including community gardens, replanting projects, wetland restoration.

If any of you drove up to this conference along State Highway One you might well have experienced the massive upheaval currently occurring alongside the Ohingaiti-Makohine realignment.

The $10.6 million dollar roading project alongside a strip less than four kilometres, involves a new purpose built rail tunnel; an overpass; a passing lane and a three span bridge.

But in the midst of all the chaos, it is great to know that local iwi, Ngāti Hauiti and Horizons Regional Council have been working together to develop a native planting scheme to beautify the area.

It is a classic example of land use with multiple purposes – road and rail safety; more effective transport, economic development and cultural protection.

Of course whether or not the right balance has been achieved will be probably best described by Ngāti Hauiti – but the concept that consultation is important appears to at least have been considered.

I am aware of course, that for every exciting initiative we will hear about at this hui, there is still much that needs to be done.

The kaupapa of this conference is about the factors that are critical to effective Māori land development.  Some of these are good governance, working together and building on what makes us strong as Māori rather than trying to fit into an Economics 101 text book.

Other factors affecting development include the rating and valuation of Māori land for rating purposes.

We know that most owners of Māori land want to pay rates, and do pay rates.

A survey by Te Puni Kōkiri found that rates assessed on Māori land accounted for only 0.3% of the total assessed throughout New Zealand.  However, the accumulated arrears of rates on Māori land made up 29% of total arrears.

In 2007/2008, rates on Māori land were assessed at over $23 million.  By that time, the accumulated arrears of rates on Māori land were around $278 million.

The Mayor of the Far North District Council has recently been in the media saying that unpaid rates on Māori land amount to

$14 million, up from $11 million last year.

You don’t need a maths degree to work out that we have a problem.

This is one of the legacies of a hundred and fifty years of land loss, deprivation and the imposition of an alien, individualised land tenure system on Māori.

The current situation with rates on Māori land is untenable for both Māori and local authorities.

As the Mayor of the Far North District Council has pointed out, there are costs to local authorities in attempting to recover rates from multiple land owners.

Land owners may be widely dispersed and in some cases may not even be aware that they have liabilities.

On a personal level, Māori whānau – especially those who live near the land –  feel the deep personal anxiety and crippling effects of rates arrears every day.

On a national level the large burden of debt – and the potential liability – is a significant barrier to Māori land development.

One option that has been raised is to exempt rates on unused Māori land across the country.  This debt relief would give Māori the incentive to look at development so that they are in a position to pay rates as the land becomes productive.

This option also provides local authorities with administrative efficiencies, including not having to pay GST on rates arrears.

Te Puni Kōkiri’s survey of local authorities in 2007/2008 indicated that the local authorities with 65% of all Māori land supported a statutory rates exemption for unused Māori land.

A related issue is even bigger – the question of the valuation of Māori land for rating purposes.

Land is valued on the basis of what it would be worth if the land was put to the ‘highest and best use” – in economic terms.

This bears no relationship to the way Māori value and use whenua.

The assumption is that if the owner cannot use the land in this way, then it can be sold to someone who will.

Māori land cannot by law be freely sold and in most situations Māori do not want to sell the land in this way.

In 1987 the Court of Appeal Mangatu decision considered some of the issues around the valuation of Māori land.  It did not address the fundamental matter of valuations based on the “highest and best use”.

Māori land owners have also raised concerns about the way in which the decision has been applied in practice.

The land policies of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries meant that Māori were left with small amounts of land that was by the standards of the time often unproductive, undeveloped or inaccessible.

Globally, the value of land has rocketed over the last decades.

This has meant – and the ironies are too many to dwell on – that Māori coastal and lakeside properties for example, can be in highly sought after locations.

Unfortunately, this means that such properties risk being valued as if they could be sold to build multi-million dollar residences.

There are around 1.4 million hectares of Māori land left – about 5% of the total area of New Zealand.

Some 500,000 hectares of that 1.4 million are unused.  More is under-utilised, as will be clear from some of the presentations at this conference.

There is real potential for Māori aspirations for their land to be realised to the benefit of the wider community.

The good news is that work is underway to tackle the rates and valuation issues.  We need to promote a wider understanding of how these difficulties inhibit Māori development.  I am hopeful that we will be able to find a sensible way through these before too long.

Last night, my colleague Te Ururoa Flavell led the debate around the Public Works (Offer Back of and Compensation for Acquired

Land) Amendment Bill.

Unfortunately the Bill was voted down at its second reading, but I think it raised some vital questions for Government to think about in terms of making it compulsory for government and local authorities to offer back land to the original Māori owners if they no longer require it for the purpose it was taken.

Later this afternoon, the Iwi Futures Project Group will be calling for a wider discussion in which cultural imperatives are considered a vital part of a decision-making framework alongside other factors such as agricultural development and environmental management.

There are many aspects that we need to consider as part of our sustainable pathway forward as tāngata whenua.

But perhaps the most important, in my view, doesn’t require a policy framework; a cost-benefit analysis; an evaluation methodology or a visualisation tool to achieve.

Quite simply, this is the challenge – to walk the land.

And so I return, once more, to the ancient pā site of Horehore.

One of my greatest ambitions as a grandfather, and a father, is to ensure that the future generations from our line, walk the ranges, awaken the gentle giant that is our most precious taonga.

As we walk along those ranges, we walk with our tupuna before us; taking the same steps that they did; immersing ourselves in the stories of their journeys; their experiences.

And as we walk across those same tracks, our hikoi is also about a journey towards enhancing our physical and spiritual wellbeing.

It is a journey towards a secure cultural identity, and environmental integrity shaped by the retention of Māori values, wealth creation and an investment in a sound economic base.

It is today, as it always has been, the source of our greatest strength as people.

inally, for all those who think that sustainability is the latest buzz word of the policy world, I want to end with the wisdom of the New Zealand Māori Council some 27 years ago, in Kaupapa:

Te Wāhanga Tuatahi:

“Land provides us with a sense of identity, belonging and continuity.

It is proof of our continued existence not only as a people, but also as tāngata whenua of this country. It is proof of our tribal and kin group ties.

Māori land represents tūrangawaewae. It is proof of our link with the ancestors of our past, and with generations to come.

It is an assurance that we shall forever exist as a people, for as long as the land shall last.”

Tēnā koutou katoa.

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