Solomon's wisdom recognised

Mark Solomon is a man of few airs and graces, and having the title of "Sir" precede his name is unlikely to change that.

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

Speaking from Oaro, south of Kaikoura, where Sir Mark is spending his holiday break - in shorts and T-shirts working in the garden - he said he was "blown away" by the honour. "You don't expect these things at all."

Sir Mark, 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 for $170 million.

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 $170m capital injection, then it wouldn't matter what we got."

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

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

Sir Mark listed the Whaia Rawa savings and contribution scheme; investments in education and Te Reo Maori language; and helping provide employment to hundreds as other sources of pride.

Sir Mark, 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."

Maori culture was getting stronger, with young people "hungry" to get the language back.

Fairfax NZ

The Dominion Post