Rangatira / Iwi
Written by: Dr Monty Soutar
1 Apr 2009

The following article was originally published in April 2009 Nga Kohinga.

Te Runanga o Ngati Porou has its roots in the Hui Taumata held at Ngata Memorial College in January 1985. I remember the three-day hui as I was then a first year teacher at Manutahi Primary School and for many years after the event I held onto the pack that all participants received.

I don’t remember much of the detail of the hui only that a range of Ngati Porou academics, educationalists and bureaucrats presented many papers indicating the preferred direction for Ngati Porou over the coming decade of economic development. 

The other interesting thing that I remember happened a couple of years later when the Runanga became a legal entity, Boycie Te Maro was at Mangahanea using the analogy of conception to childbirth to describe the developments that had led to the birth of the Runanga. He did it so well that his audience sat enthralled never anticipating who the child was.

It was with some surprise, then, that a fortnight ago Agnes Walker told me she had found a box of files at the Radio Ngati Porou station that held the minutes of those initial meetings from 1985 to 1987. When I read them I gained a much better appreciation of the hui I had attended. The well-intentioned aspiration of our people in setting up the Runanga is undeniable.

How far we have come after almost twenty-five years to meeting those aspirations is a question we must all address as we look to agree on a post settlement governance entity to receive the assets resulting from our historic Treaty of Waitangi claims.

The original intention of the Runanga was to develop an independent viable economic base to fund it’s activities. Once established, the organisation would take a positive role in helping the East Coast region recover from the ‘endemic recession that had pervaded the Ngati Porou people’ since the 1960s.

The Runanga was to be the channel for resources to and from the region and it was to ensure that certain key functions important to the development of Ngati Porou were firmly in Ngati Porou hands. Further, it was envisioned that with the development of the region there would come a declining need for the Welfare State. From January 1986, eighteen interim trustees, who ‘for administrative convenience’ were nominated to represent the interests of four rohe, met regularly guided by the following kaupapa:

The trustees priorities highlight the financial constraints they were operating under. I have listed a few below:

"Hikurangi Maunga: Negotiations for the return of the maunga and its environs to Ngati Porou to be completed by the end of 1986. The Runanga to be the owner and caretaker. This will probably require some monetary commitment from Ngati Porou. This could provide a foundation for the Runanga’s land base. It is important that the Runanga use the major assets of the region to provide a financial base. However, it should not be seen as competing with Ngati Porou people for assets already owned by Ngati Porou. These assets include land, sea and people." 

"$100 Koha from all working Ngati Porou: That all members promote the koha concept in conjunction with Te Runanga. This is a step towards self-sufficency for Ngati Porou, and establishes a cash base for Te Runanga."

"No postal voting: Voting would be held in the Ngati Porou rohe for two reasons: to encourage people to return home and because the Runanga could not afford postal voting." 

The Runanga was eventually established under its own act of parliament, the Te Runanga o Ngati Porou Act, on 1 September 1987 as a body corporate that operates as a Maori Trust Board with the meaning and for the purposes of the Maori Trust Boards Act 1955. Since 1987, whether good or bad, the Runanga has sought to achieve the original aspirations of the Hui Taumata.

Some achievements include establishing Radio Ngati Porou, Ngati Porou Hauora, Ngati Porou Whanui Forests and the return of Maunga Hikurangi. Along the way the Runanga has also received their fare share of criticism for blunders or unwise investments. And rightly so.

On the other hand, there is often little fanfare for the many productive things that the Runanga has done for our people. Take the repairs and maintenance programme that has seen a quarter of a million dollars invested in homes on the East Coast over the past decade.

In any case, my view is that the past is the past. We can’t change it; we can only alter the future. 80% of the people I have met since I took up the position of Kaihautu nine weeks ago say I‘ve got huge challenges in front of me. I don’t like to think that way. Real success lies in setting what most think are unrealistic goals but which you believe are achievable, shooting for those goals and never giving up till you reach them.

Challenges are put in front of you to build your character; they are really opportunities in disguise. I look forward to the biggest opportunity of all and the one many think can’t be done — building unity among all Ngati Porou based on the Runanga’s original kaupapa set down in the 1980s. So, I invite you all to become optimists, to see the opportunities that lie before us and for our children’s children if we can but unite.

Ma whero, ma pango, ka oti pai te mahi.