Taranaki iwi open for business: 'We're not going anywhere'

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RNZ rnz.co.nz

With the end of offshore oil and gas exploration in sight and caps on dairy expansion on the cards, could Taranaki iwi kick-start the province's ailing economy?

Leoni Matoe and Pete Abraham check on the puha at the Kii Tahi plant nursery in Patea.

Leoni Matoe and Pete Abraham check on the puha at the Kii Tahi plant nursery in Patea.

Source: RNZ rnz.co.nz

The region's eight iwi are sitting on more than $420 million in assets and say they are open for business and looking for investment opportunities.

Leonie Matoe is vigourously whipping up a Kaitahi smoothie on the deck at Te Kaahui O Rauru's Waverly base in South Taranaki.

Ingeniously snap-frozen chips of blended indigenous superfoods, including puha, kawakawa, rewarewa honey and the humble kumara, are simply added to water and shaken to create a delicious smoothie.

Kaiaarahi of business development at Te Kaahui O Rauru, Ms Matoe has been showcasing the product at food shows in Wellington and Auckland.

Big city foodies just love it, she said.

"When they saw the simplicity of it that immediately piqued interest in it. There were some customers coming up to us and saying 'oh my God you've made a product just for me.

"'I was just thinking of how annoying it is to go shopping and chop up all these things and whizz them in the machine and then I have to clean that machine'."

Ms Matoe said people were also taken with the product's back story.

"This was started from a social ecological entrepreneurship pilot programme. We wanted to contribute to regional economic development in a way that promoted our identity supported our duty to serve and be kaitiaki of the land."

Nga Rauru received $31 million in its 2005 Treaty settlement and through a conservative investment strategy that's grown to more than $44 million.

Ms Matoe said Kaitahi, the Native Superfood Company, piggy-backed of its successful Kii Tahi plant nursery in Patea where some of the produce is grown.

It was the Nga Rauru's first venture into processed food and Ms Matoe hoped it wouldn't be its last.

Near neighbour, Ngāti Ruanui has grown its 2003 settlement from $41 million to north of $60 million.

After initially focusing on health services for its people, including setting up the largest doctors surgery in Hawera, it bought the Stratford Mountain House in 2011 for $1 million and spent a further $600,000 upgrading it.

Te Runanga o Ngāti Ruanui boss Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said having a footprint on Mt Taranaki was significant for the iwi.

"Today we're in the Mountain House and obviously there's a huge historical reason for why we purchased this building, but also tourism and being able to be involved in the environmental kaupapa is really important for us as well and we're the only iwi that has a guiding concession for the maunga."

Ms Ngarewa-Packer said there was huge potential for authentic tourism experiences with a iwi-inc stamp, but that Ngāti Ruanui was not putting all its eggs in one basket.

Debbie Ngarewa-Packer from Te Runanga o Ngāti Ruanui.

Debbie Ngarewa-Packer from Te Runanga o Ngāti Ruanui.

Source: RNZ rnz.co.nz

She said the iwi had investments in Rocket apples, blueberries and hemp as well as in capital markets and overseas infrastructure.

"Even though Taranaki is strong in its agriculture and oil and minerals sector we don't participate in that.

"It's not something that we really would either because it's quite high risk as in oil and mineral, and clearly agriculture is really difficult to get into.

"I guess the advantage of our disadvantage of being quite landless is that we've had to be quite agile."

Te Kotahitanga o Te Atiawa chairwoman Liana Poutu said its 2014 financial redress of $87 million was now worth more than $100 million, including fishery assets.

Ms Poutu said the iwi had first right of refusal on about 50 properties in or near New Plymouth and they were its main economic focus.

The prime site was the 7.6 hectare former Barrett Street Hospital. It was valued at about $5.3 million and had development potential in excess of $47 million.

"It is an extensive site with some of the best views in the city and it is also an old pa site so there are a lot of things to be considered in terms of whether we exercise our rights over that property," said Ms Poutu.

Te Kotahitanga o Te Atiawa chair Liana Poutu.

Te Kotahitanga o Te Atiawa chair Liana Poutu.

Source: RNZ rnz.co.nz

The site was currently being decontaminated and Ms Poutu said Te Atiawa still had more than a year to make a decision on Barrett St and other land parcels in its rohe.

Ms Poutu said all Taranaki iwi were working together for a more prosperous future and were keen to work with non-Māori partners.

"Iwi are highly invested in this region and we're not going anywhere so we're long-term players. We're not businesses that are going to come and go overnight or next month or next year.

"We're committed intergenerationally and I think that puts us in a unique position and we will be a big player in this region because of that."

Taranaki iwi will be aiming to emulate Tainui and Ngāi Tahu which now have assets worth more than a billion dollars each.

All the while hoping to avoid the fate of their North Taranaki cousins Ngāti Tama which lost most of its $14 million settlement in a failed software investment.

Taranaki Treat settlements then and now

Ngāti Tama 2002 $14.5m, 2017 $3m

Ngāti Ruanui 2003 $41m, 2017 $60m

Nga Rauru 2005 $31m, 2017 $44m

Ngāti Mutunga 2005 $15m, 2017 $26m

Ngaruahine 2014 $67.5m, 2017 $80m

Te Atiawa 2014 $87m, 2017 $100m

Taranaki 2015 $70m, 2017 $86m

Ngāti Mare 2018 $30m (yet to ratify).

- By Robin Martin

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