Right to Development: Taheke 8C, an Example of Māori Resiliency


In December 1986, the United Nations marked the end of the colonial period by passing the UN Declaration on the Right to Development. The Declaration made clear that “development is an inalienable human right by virtue of which every human person and all peoples are entitled to participate in, contribute to, and enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development, in which all human rights and fundamental freedoms can be fully realized.” It also established that the right to development “implies the full realization of the right of peoples to self-determination, which includes. . . the exercise of their inalienable right to full sovereignty over all their natural wealth and resources.”

Despite this pronouncement, it would take more than 20 years for States to recognize that Indigenous Peoples possess these rights, individually and collectively. Māori leaders and attorneys including Moana Jackson, Moana Sinclair, Fergus McKay, and Tracey Whare worked with Māori Kupuna, Nganako Minhinnick, and Pauline Tangiora to ensure that the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples would establish the right of Māori as Indigenous Peoples to Development.

The success of their effort can be seen in the progress made by many Māori Iwi who are involved in the development of their lands, territories, and resources to the tune of $6 billion NZ per year. The community of Ngapuhi has a new worth of $53 million, most of which is invested in fisheries earning 5 percent per annum; Ngati Whatua Orakei has a net worth of $717 million, most of which is invested in property earning 16 percent annum; Ngati Porou has a net worth of $201 million invested in equities earning 5 percent per annum; Waikato-Tainui has a net worth of $940 million in property earning 7 percent per annum; Tuhoe has a net worth of $325 million n managed funds earning 7 percent per annum; and Ngai Tahu has a net worth of $1.27 billion earning 14 percent per annum. All of these Māori Iwi, with the exception of Ngapuhi, have settled claims with the Crown and are using their demarcated lands and resources to provide for their Indigenous Iwi members.

Taheke 8c

The effort of Māori to become economically self-sufficient is strong testimony to their resiliency and commitment to maintaining their cultural values while entering the international economic arena. There is no better example than the Māori landowners of Taheke 8C, who for years struggled to regain control over their traditional lands and resources and who today are moving forward with a strategy for self-development.

In the 1920s and ’30s the Taheke lands were lumped together with other Māori lands under the “supervision” of the New Zealand Government Department of Māori Affairs. During this time, the government provided capital funding for development on Māori lands but assessed these costs as
a debt on land. In 1954, special legislation was passed by the New Zealand government to release Māori lands from government departmental supervision. Taheke 8C fell under this legislation, but because of the previous debt incurred, Taheke lands remained under state supervision for another 40 years.

In the 1980s, facing threat of takeover by the Te Tira Ahu Iwi, the Taheke Māori owners responded quickly by allocating their undeveloped lands to forestry and capitalizing their forestry rental agreements. The funds generated from the reorganized operations were applied to the debt owed to the Office of Māori Affairs. The strategy was successful, and in 1994 the Taheke 8C Incorporation was finally released from departmental supervision.

Today, Sandra Eru is the general manager of Taheke 8C, which has made great advances in implementing their land and resource development plans. “The most important advice I have for Indigenous and Tribal Peoples is to choose your advisor or advisors very carefully. Take the time necessary to determine what advice you need. Do not sign up with the first person/persons that come knocking on your door—due diligence should never be ignored,” she says.

Taheke 8C has approximately 3 square kilometers of land dedicated to pastoral farming that contributes to the Iwi’s food sustainability. The incorporation is part of the First Light Wagyu Ltd supply group and raises store cattle to sell. An additional 5.5 kilometers are planted in Radiata Pine and managed under a forestry lease. Unlike prior agreements in the era of Crown supervision, all lands harvested are returned to the incorporation for future development planning.

In 2009, Taheke 8C worked with the Innovations Development Group, an Indigenous Hawaiian consulting and development organization, on the testing and development of geothermal energy resources on their land. They secured a partnership with a national energy producer, Contact Energy, and also entered into a project participation agreement with a neighboring Māori landowner, the Whangamoa Trust, to facilitate Māori benefit sharing.

“In terms of our geothermal development journey there were [several] key questions to be answered: Who should we engage to advise the incorporation? What advice do we need? What skills and experience do they bring to the table? Will they be able to work with us and will we be able to work with them?” Eru says. “Owner/shareholder support is fundamental. When our advisors were in place the questions were addressed, Taheke 8C was able to move forward con dent in the knowledge that the Incorporation, with the assistance of our advisors, would be able to address any issues that may arise as the development progressed.”

In 2010, a drilling program commenced that has yielded encouraging results. However, due to a softening of the New Zealand energy market, Contact Energy withdrew from the venture and Taheke 8C is now the sole owner of all project assets, including intellectual property. On the ecotourism front, Taheke 8C lands include parcels adjacent to the world renowned Kaituna River with its Class 6 rapids for recreational uses, and Lake Rotoiti, popular with boaters and fishermen, as well as beautiful and secluded areas for high-end tourism development. These development opportunities are being explored by the Taheke team, who have already determined that they will opt for the smaller, more exclusive resort development that preserves the unique quality and cultural heritage of their land.

Eru says there were two main challenges for Taheke 8C in developing their assets: communication and lack of capital. “You have different audiences and each one requires something different from the messenger, both verbally and non-verbally,” she says. “For example, when reporting back to our owners/ shareholders, the message needs to be clear so that you can be reasonably sure that everybody hears the same thing.They must never feel as though they are being talked down to, and if they have questions, time must be taken to answer those questions honestly. Communicating with bureaucrats is something else, especially when they don’t appear to know much about the difference between Māori freeheld land and general land, and they don’t appear interested enough to go out and learn about the difference. Dealing with such people was, and still is, a huge challenge for me as I am very passion- ate about Taheke 8C, our whenua (land), our development, and our owners.”

Regarding communication with potential partners or advisors, Eru emphasizes that “this is definitely not a time to be blinded by science. If you don’t understand what is being said, don’t sit there pretending you do understand—ask questions, get them to explain in plain language. Kaua e whakamā! Don’t be shy! This is your land, your resources, your people that you are representing, and you need to understand what is being said.”

In general, Eru believes that financial settlement of claims with the Crown is positive for Māori. “When one considers the history of the claims—the land stolen, the blood spilled, the desecration of sacred sites, the suffering and humiliation of people such as those of Parihaka—of course there must be an economic benefit to settlement. How else can these huge losses and pain be recognized in today’s world? In many cases the stolen land has not been returned, and I guess never will be. The dead cannot be resurrected. Many claims have taken years to settle; indeed many original claimants passed away before their claims were settled. The fact that Iwi who settled with the Crown now collectively have $6 billion in assets is testimony to their careful and prudent management of their settlements. This is a positive story for Māori in a world where there is so much negativity.”

—Mililani Trask (Native Hawaiian) is an Indigenous Peoples’ rights attorney and Indigenous and community advisor to Innovations Development Group.

Photo: The whanau (family) are land and resource owners and shareholders. Courtesy of Taheke 8C.

CSQ Disclaimer

Our website houses close to five decades of content and publishing. Any content older than 10 years is archival and Cultural Survival does not necessarily agree with the content and word choice today.

CSQ Issue: