Risky path ends in disaster and shame for whanau

DION TUUTA
Last updated 05:00 17/04/2012

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OPINION: Today is a sad day for North Taranaki iwi Ngati Tama.

While many outside the tribe reading of the difficult financial situation the iwi is now in may gloat at this terrible news, few of these people will give any thought to the hurt and shame being felt by Ngati Tama whanau members.

The news of the financial situation will bring shame and outrage to each tribal member. It is a shame that they will feel for themselves, and their whanau, but especially to the memory of ancestors, many who gave their lives so the mana of the iwi could survive.

For most tribal members they will learn of this tragedy when they read it in the media.

When they read of the staggering losses involving most of the money provided for compensation for the staggering losses endured by Ngati Tama as a result of "unconscionable and unjust behaviour towards Ngati Tama" by the Crown.

Yet as is often the case when you are Maori, the collective must endure the jeers and finger pointing from others, for the actions, inactions or error in judgment, of a few.

I tautoko my Ngati Tama whanaunga. I feel and share their pain.

The pain of being adults at a time when negative commercial outcomes have come to potentially sully the name of a tribe which has a proud history and legacy. A tribe whose history is embroidered with incredible leaders and whose people have remained strong through some of the most profound injustices against them by the Crown in this country's history.

It is easy to seek someone or individuals to blame for the financial disaster that has befallen Ngati Tama.

Greg White, who was the leader who ensured the tribe, achieved its 2003 $14.5 million settlement, will likely endure the worst of it. Greg went from chief claims negotiator to chief executive, a situation similar to a number of iwi – a position I myself once undertook for my own iwi.

Greg is my cousin, he is a straight shooter, and not one to shy away from controversy. It is not my place to publicly criticise my cousin.

However, I have a sense of the mindset he employed, which has led the tribe to this sad situation.

Ngati Tama, like the iwi I chair, Ngati Mutunga, negotiated our claims at a time when there was no political willingness to settle significant Treaty of Waitangi breaches fairly or appropriately. Certainly not at the level claims are being settled today.

Ngati Mutunga felt firsthand the disdain many Taranaki people felt about our attempts to get back just a fraction of that which was taken.

We too were landless and without resources within our own tribal rohe.

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And we also saw before us a public who opposed our attempt to try to find justice for our people.

Indirectly, we were told take it or leave it, this is as good as it will get for you.

We were left to reflect that the settlement amount of around $14.9m reflected less than 1 per cent the value of what was wrongfully taken from us.

The debate on whether to settle for such a small compensatory amount created tension because we understood that in real terms this could have very little impact on the lives of our members. With around 4000 beneficiaries the settlement equated to about $3600 per each iwi member.

Ultimately, faced with the Crown's take it or leave attitude, we elected to make the best of it and take the Crown at its word that all future settlements would continue to be benchmarked.

Our numbers parallel those of Ngati Tama.

Our role as kaitiaki of tribal taonga and governance is to protect and grow this amount for this and future generations.

And we have.

Today seven years on we have grown our collective value to around $20m.

This, however, is still not an amount that is life-changing for our people, and in fact, with an appropriate conservative investment focus, has probably just managed to stay ahead of inflation.

With our conservative approach we earn less than $1m per annum.

This must support our governance, our administration, our marae, and various cultural revitalisation activities, while still retaining some profit to reinvest and grow our people's collective value.

Looking ahead despite doing the right thing, the time when we can have real impact on the many wants and needs of our people remains a long way off.

Ngati Tama pondered this situation also. They instead took a riskier path, in the hope of achieving more substantial financial gains for their people, to hasten the growth process so that Ngati Tama had sufficient resource to be able to support their own.

Ngati Tama's leadership lost this gamble, and with it, have lost almost their entire financial settlement compensation. And in doing so they have inflicted great hurt on the mana of their people, their tupuna, and the legacy for their mokopuna and those of all others in the iwi.

These are terrible times for Ngati Tama. And that is the reality for those who sit waiting to point the finger at the failings of this iwi – and by default "Maori". It is the people of Ngati Tama who feel the hurt, and must endure the consequence of these losses.

For those sitting on the side-lines, understand that the relatively paltry compensation afforded to Ngati Tama through settlement negotiations was insignificant when compared to the $2 billion of taxpayer funds used to cover the debts of some of the 40 finance companies that have collapsed in the last 5 years, taking with them investment funds of more than 200,000 Kiwi investors.

Please show some perspective, and, dare I say it, sympathy for the people of Ngati Tama who again are left to deal with more loss.

Dion Tuuta is a regular columnist to the Taranaki Daily News.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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