Sir Mark knows what it is to be Ngai Tahu

18:07, Jan 02 2013
Mark Solomon
SIR MARK: Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu chairman Mark Solomon at his home away from home, Oaro, south of Kaikoura. Mr Solomon has been made a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to Maori and business.

News that Ngai Tahu tribal council leader Mark Solomon had been knighted has been welcomed by Kaikoura iwi representatives.

The chairman of Ngai Tahu's tribal council, Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu, Mr Solomon has been made a knight in the 2013 New Year honours for services to Maori and business during his 15 years in the role.

Runanga o Kaikoura member Maurice Manawatu said on Monday he was delighted. "It is a huge testament for the work that he has done and his success is really our hapu's success as well," he said. "He represents us and has now been rewarded for it, and for doing a great job."

When asked if he was expecting to have to address him as Sir Mark when he next saw him, Mr Manawatu said he would have to wait and see.

"He is a really down-to-earth guy actually, just one of us."

Runanga kaumatua Phyllis Papworth said she was still getting her head around the news after her daughter called to tell her.


"It's a bit of a shock because we didn't know anything about it," she said. "I think it's a good choice, I'm pleased about it and think he deserves it. And it's good for us here in Kaikoura at the runanga."

She was keen to talk to him about it in person, she said.

Speaking from Oaro, south of Kaikoura, where he is spending his holiday break - in shorts and T-shirts working in the garden - Mr Solomon said he was "blown away" by the honour.

"You don't expect these things at all."

Mr Solomon, 58, had been a foundry metal-maker for nearly 20 years when he was first elected to the tribal council in 1995, representing families in Kaikoura.

He became chairman in 1998 - the year Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu signed a Deed of Settlement with the Crown in 1998 for $170 million.

He remembers growing up with a clear knowledge of what being Ngai Tahu meant - his grandfather was an early member of the Ngai Tahu Maori Trust Board, which carried the torch for the iwi during the tough, pre-settlement times. "I've always known who I was."

Mr Solomon said the settlement accounted for about 1.5 per cent of what the tribe had lost, but he supported it for pragmatic reasons.

"If Ngai Tahu could not build a future based on a $170 million capital injection, then it wouldn't matter what we got."

During Mr Solomon's time as chairman, Ngai Tahu has grown its asset base to more than $800 million with investments in property, fisheries and tourism.

The group has been recognised internationally as a leader in indigenous economic, social and cultural development.

Mr Solomon listed the Whaia Rawa savings and contribution scheme; investments in education and te reo Maori; and helping provide employment to hundreds as other sources of pride.

Maori water ownership rights would be a major topic of 2013, he said.

Mr Solomon, of Ngai Tahu and Ngati Kuri descent, said the "biggest buzz" of the job was meeting Maori communities across the country, which were more upbeat than the "doom and gloom" portrayed in the media.

"My focus always within the corporate structure is, when you go out and talk to the people, think of it as sitting at the table with your aunty and uncle having a yarn. Speak in that language, then everyone understands what you're saying."

Mr Solomon has been married to his wife, Maria, for 38 years and they have two sons and two daughters, aged 23 to 36.

As for being called "Sir Mark", it won't happen, he says - "not in my household".

The Solomons hail from Port Levy, but Mr Solomon's grandfather married a Kaikoura woman, and most of his line of the family now lives in Kaikoura.

Kaikoura Star