Is it the job of iwi to solve Maori problems, or do we all have a stake and a responsibility? And what's the end goal of treaty settlements?

It's one of those perennial talkback-style questions that comes up towards the end of any debate on race relations. Someone often says, "... and anyway, now that iwi have all that settlement money, why aren't they fixing Maori poverty/getting Maori off welfare/stopping all these Maori problems".

It's a common reprise from Q+A viewers and I suspect it's an idea that gets canvassed a lot in letters to the editor around the country. I mean, what's the point of the treaty settlements if not to tackle all these terrible Maori statistics?

The direct answer to that is easy -- it's to right the wrongs of our history. Where something was taken unlawfully, it should be given back or some reparation made.  Sure, we want to see large, representative organisations invest such large sums of money wisely. But if the vast majority of an iwi, theoretically, wanted to blow their settlement in a strip joint, that's their business.

Pakeha governments are settling because it's the just and right thing to do, not as a way of extending social welfare. Taxpayers have no more right to judge how iwi money spend their settlements than they do to judge how I might spend any money I get back from the IRD this year. (#wishfulthinking).

Having said that, it's reasonable for New Zealanders to hope that the treaty settlements are handed on and start to turn around Maori social woes, because Maori leaders have long said that the historic loss of resources lies at the root of modern ills. Ultimately, I'd like to think that settlement money bridges the ethnic economic gap because the justice being meted out should be practical and shared.

So it's good news no iwi seem interested in the strip joint option. Indeed, while it gets little publicity, it seems iwi are spending significant sums on the social needs of their whanau and hapu.

Ngai Tahu Chair Mark Solomon has told both Q+A and Marae Investigates recently that since settlement in 1994 his iwi has redistributed getting up to quarter of a billion dollars amongst its members. The focus of the social investment seems to be education, with 981 tertiary scholarships granted in the past financial year. Around 11% of Ngai Tahu folk have a tertiary degree, up three percent since 1994.

The message from his people was that the money should be "a hand up, not a hand out". Now that's typically politic-speak for anything you support doing in terms of welfare. However the distinction here is telling. The money is not to combat immediate poverty, but to fund long-term solutions, such as education.

That's a bold call. Solomon's line is that he doesn't want Ngai Tahu to become the "brown welfare".

If I take up until the 1st of July last year, we had distributed, since settlement, around $227.9 million. If I divide that by the tribal population and then divide that by the years since settlement, it equates to $351 per person. So just giving out a $351 a year is not going to be of huge benefit to the individual whanau. So we have to look at initiatives that give us the best bang for our buck, if I can put it that way, that help to give our people a hand up. We were specifically told at every hui that we held with the people in 1999 we were not allowed to become the brown social welfare.

Which spells out iwi's limitations. Those asking the original question think: 'Iwi are rich, therefore iwi should fix Maori poverty now' without realising no-one outside of the government is that rich.

Still, those question askers will continue, 'but a billion dollars has now been spent on redress [although not quite in 1994 dollar terms, so we haven't even broken the 'fiscal envelope' yet], so where are the results'? Solomon made the point that generations of problems will take generations to overcome. "We cannot cure the social ills of Maori overnight," he said. An obvious but little acknowledged fact of life.

But shouldn't we expect more urgency around addressing those ills? That's certainly the cry when we're talking about Maori child abuse, which in part goes back to Maori poverty and whanau breakdown.

It's got similarities to the debate over Islam and terrorism. A common complaint is that Muslims aren't strong enough in condemning jihadists. In this case, some ask why Maori aren't stronger in condemning the 50% of child abuse perpetrated by Maori.

Of course the condemnation is there on both counts. And I'm sure Solomon and other Maori leaders are seriously concerned about all these "social ills".

But he made a striking point on Q+A:

SHANE          Do you believe that is iwi’s role, to become the brown social welfare?

MARK            No, I do not. I do not believe that at all. Iwi, Maori, like all other citizens of this country. We are taxpayers, and we have the same right to access to Crown funding for social delivery as every other sector of society.

Solomon firmly pushed responsibility for leadership on any "social ills" back on government -- the government of all New Zealanders.

Those who argue strongly that 'we're all New Zealanders' and oppose 'special treatment for Maori', can't then turn around and say 'it's a Maori problem, Maori have to fix it. That's what settlements were for'. You can't have it both ways. If 'we're all New Zealanders', then it's all our problem. We all have to care and we all have to pay.

On the other hand, as Maori take more political power, so they must take more political responsibility. When it came to partial asset sales, Solomon he wasn't a fan personally, but if the returns were good enough, Ngai Tahu would buy.

SHANE          So for Ngai Tahu, it comes back to the return.

MARK            Of course it does. We have a fiduciary responsibility on behalf of the Ngai Tahu families to manage the assets well and to get a good return. That’s our responsibility.

Is that good enough, to simply run iwi as another big business? Iwi by definition are about people, not just the bottom line.

I respect Solomon for challenging the assumption that a Maori business should somehow have to care more about Maori people and their social problems than a Pakeha business does about Pakeha people and their problems. Maori taxpayers deserve the same rights as Pakeha taxpayers and it's no good ghettoising Maori woes or solutions. While NGOs, iwi, churches and other organisations can help, but it's the job of our politicians to serve the needs of the people.

That was going to be the point of this post... But as I've been writing, I've also been thinking - aren't iwi more than just business? Solomon in the past has argued along those lines:

“New Zealand needs to come to terms that iwi are probably the government’s best partner. Number one we are never going to leave this country. Everything we earn will stay in this country. Most of the tribes that are out there doing business now, they heavily invest in their own communities, they create industry, they create income, they create employment.”

So Solomon seems to be arguing that iwi are something different, but on the other hand must focus on returns like other businesses. It's quite a tightrope to walk.

I'm left arguing with myself -- undoubtedly it's the government's job to provide for the welfare of its people, but on the other hand iwi should perhaps be looking more urgently at the needs of their people today rather than stressing the soundness of their bottomline for generations to come.

I'll be interested in what you have to say.

Comments (13)

by stuart munro on October 22, 2012
stuart munro

Part of the argument gets back to the old thing about whether a corporation can have a conscience. Conventially the answer to that is no. We hear a lot about the benefits in terms of expertise and availibility of capital that corporations provide, but comparatively little about how they displace smaller and more innovative enterprises. I'd tend to go with Jared Diamond's description of nascent social entities that attract public wealth. But then we haven't seen the iwi corporations produce the local equivalent of the Grameen Bank, or any of the many other tools of development economics. It's true that the government has a role to play in such initiatives, but the iwi, being explicitly concerned with people instead of tax evasion and Chicago school fiscal orthodoxy, could be providing much needed leadership, that to date is not apparent.

by BeShakey on October 22, 2012
BeShakey

It'd be interesting to know exactly how well the money is being spent. My back of the envelope calculation is that a 3% increase in the number of people with a tertiary degree is around 1,000-1,200 people (depending on whether its calculated from what you wrote or straight from wikipedia). Hard to see how that is a great success in nearly fifteen years, particularly if one of the main focuses of nearly $250million is tertiary scholarships. Are my numbers wrong or am I missing something?

by stuart munro on October 22, 2012
stuart munro

Development economics underlies the twentieth century economic success stories that, unlike Iceland & Ireland were not based on bubbles of foreign investment. Be nice to have some of that economic success in NZ eh. For all races of citizens.

by Andrew Geddis on October 23, 2012
Andrew Geddis

@BeShakey,

I suspect there may be some confusion around the use of the term "tertiary" here. Tim writes: 

The focus of the social investment seems to be education, with 981 tertiary scholarships granted in the past financial year. Around 11% of Ngai Tahu folk have a tertiary degree, up three percent since 1994.

Given that "tertiary education" includes not just University study, but also Polytech and Wananga training, etc, treating the growth in the number of people with degrees as being the sole (or even main) outcome of Ngai Tahu's investment is a bit misleading. And, indeed, when we look here, we see that "Ngāi Tahu Kā Pūtea Grants and Scholarships are available to all registered Ngāi Tahu iwi members who are enrolled in NZQA recognised tertiary study or equivalent." So what we'd need to see in order to assess the success (or otherwise) of Ngai Tahu's strategy is the overall increase in post-secondary educational achievement.

by Rab McDowell on October 23, 2012
Rab McDowell

Do you believe that is iwi’s role, to become the brown social welfare?
Solomon - “No, I do not. I do not believe that at all. Iwi, Maori, like all other citizens of this country. We are taxpayers, and we have the same right to access to Crown funding for social delivery as every other sector of society.”
There is a justifiable logic to his answer. However, to take that logic and argument further, if Maori are taxpayers and have the same access to Crown funding, and they are and should, then the Crown also has a requirement likewise to treat all its citizens equally as far as access is concerned and there should not be special funding for Maori needs, just access for the needy. There would be no requirement for schools to treat Maori achievement differently, no requirement for any programme to have specific Maori targets or outcomes.
That would mean a society based on equality of needs rather than race based solutions.
It is not what many other Maori seem to be wanting.  

by Andrew Geddis on October 23, 2012
Andrew Geddis

"There would be no requirement for schools to treat Maori achievement differently, no requirement for any programme to have specific Maori targets or outcomes. That would mean a society based on equality of needs rather than race based solutions."

But it's not quite that simple. Schools don't treat Maori achievement "differently" because Maori are "special", just as DHB's don't focus on Maori health separately from the rest of the population because Maori have "greater rights". Rather, Maori as a sub-population group have consistently worse achievements in education/poorer health outcomes than other groups in the population. So, there IS an "equality of needs" based reason for looking at Maori separately from the rest of the general population - just as there is for Pacifika people.

Now, it could be still argued that schools should only focus on "kids who do poorly" and DHBs should only focus on "people who get/stay sicker" without having any regard to ethnicity. So, what matters is that Maori kids aren't learning (as well as the average other kid) ... just like a bunch of non-Maori kids aren't learning (as well as the average other kid). Therefore, the response should be to design a programme that helps all kids who aren't learning (whatever their ethnicity) to learn. 

Except that, as I understand it, those folks who work in the education and health fields have come to understand that a "one-size-fits-all" response to the problem of poor learning/health outcomes just doesn't work very well. Or, to put it another way, no matter how nice it would be from a principled position to have "ethnically blind" policies, the actual people who you are trying to help DO have ethnic identities ... and these matter in terms of how programmes work (or don't work) for them. So, if you want to help these people - respond to the needs that they demonstrably have - then you have to tailor programmes in ways that take into account their ethnic identities. Which also means you need to track how well those sub-groups are doing, so as to see how well those programmes are working (or not).

Point being - if it turns out that the best way to help Maori (and other minority groups) with their needs is to treat them in a somewhat separate way from the rest of the population, then isn't that more important than hewing to a rigid "ethnicity shouldn't matter" position?

by Richard Aston on October 23, 2012
Richard Aston

How much money are we actually talking about here . Tim you quote "but a billion dollars has now been spent on redress". The figures I see for the value of treaty settlements up to 2008 - is $952 million.Which includes land, fishing quota etc . How much of that is actual cash ?

The idea of iwi managing their financial assets well to provide  a long term income stream seems to me to be very sensible. Why see this as a dynamic tension against the need to provide for the the needs of  people.It would see a bit dumb to blow all the cash on providing for people needs for a few years.

 

 

 

by stuart munro on October 23, 2012
stuart munro

The fisheries deal has not been a stellar earner for Maori. The transition from Orange Roughy to Hoki was too much for many companies, and the use of vessels chartered with crews prevented the development of local expertise. In fairness, the fisheries asset was somewhat overvalued, though the development potential is still great. The most profitable concerns, like the scallop program, were privatised long before the Sealord deal. Maori would've been better off getting that money in cash.

by Ang on October 23, 2012
Ang

Iwi's role in our society is slowly becoming enshrined in our legislation eg we have to take the Treaty of Waitangi into account in all RMA decisions (or something similar).  So, if they're just going to behave like regular corporations are we going to offer that same courtesy to all corporations?  If not, then they're getting a special deal which is anti-competitive.

If iwi are providing social and enviromental benefits to NZ that regular corporations don't provide then its okay to give them a special place in legislation.  But if they're going to maximise their bottom line for future generations then potentially they'll start bringing economic considerations into their tangata whenua consultation under legislation.  It would be interesting to see how Ngai Tahu would balance its bottom line against tangata whenua considerations if it bought into an energy company that then proposed a dam at a tapu site on a river. Lots of potential ramifications!

In answer to your actual question, Tim, its a balancing act, like everything else.   Focus on the youngest members where intervention will pay the most dividends, but its a rocess that will take more than one generation, so the iwis will need money to help their youngest members for many, many years to come.  

 

by BeShakey on October 24, 2012
BeShakey

"Iwi's role in our society is slowly becoming enshrined in our legislation eg we have to take the Treaty of Waitangi into account in all RMA decisions (or something similar).  So, if they're just going to behave like regular corporations are we going to offer that same courtesy to all corporations?  If not, then they're getting a special deal which is anti-competitive."

I don't even know what this means? Are you suggesting there were a bunch of indigenous corporations operating in NZ when the treaty was signed? If not, I can't see how your point makes any sense. Explain maybe?

by Richard Aston on October 24, 2012
Richard Aston

Be Shakey ... it doesn't make any sense and no amount of explaining will shovel a glimpse into a veiled "those uppity maori have had all they are going to get"

 

by stuart munro on October 26, 2012
stuart munro

Too tough Richard - the scepticism of iwi corporations arises from the separation of corporate employees and the ordinary people they are to support. If they run Tim's brown welfare or Andrew's integrated scholarship system that goes some way toward allaying that scepticism. But iwi corporations, Ngai Tahu especially, are giants in our playground - if they're not careful little folk can get hurt. Fontera has the same tendency. Only problem is that corporate tradition is to say business is business & the hell with the other guys, and iwi corporations want to be professional just like their competitors. Long way of saying maybe Ang has a point.

by danniel on August 22, 2013
danniel

It seems natural to me that this should be everyone's responsibility. Only this way we will be able to grow as a developed and evolved society with modern systems that would protect and care for our citizens. As a patient dependent on Welfare I still buy Lovenox as long as I can afford it.

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