Mark Solomon honoured
Mark Solomon is a man of few airs and graces, and having the title of "sir" 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 list for services to Maori and business during his 15 years in the role.
Speaking from Oaro, south of Kaikoura, where he is spending his holiday break, he said he was "blown away" by the honour. "You don't expect these things at all."
Solomon, 58, had been a foundry metal worker 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.
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 $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.
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 in 2013, he said.
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 mood 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."
Solomon has been married to 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."