Researcher to study how Ngāi Tahu investment is making its way into iwi members' pockets

By Jessica Tyson

As the father of a nine-year-old daughter, David Tikao feels personally invested in how well his iwi organisation, Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, is distributing wealth to beneficiaries and investing for future generations.

He is researching how the iwi shares the proceeds of its 1996 Treaty of Waitangi settlement with tribal members for his PhD in the Department of Management, Marketing and Entrepreneurship at the University of Canterbury (UC).

"Many iwi have settled historical grievances under the Treaty of Waitangi through the Waitangi Tribunal but a question in my research is how much of this acquired wealth or profits from Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu investment is making its way into the pockets of stakeholders and beneficiaries," Tikao says.

"In other words, how good a job are we doing at creating an entity that holds the money but also transfers it to our tribal members?”

Tikao also works for Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu as the executive director of Whai Rawa, a superannuation scheme for Ngāi Tahu whānau that currently holds over $100 million in funds for about 30,000 members.

“The research has been triggered from my own curiosity about noticing that we have a disconnect with some of our whānau, he says.

Breeding a disconnect?

“We’re approaching 70,000 tribal members now and lots of those tribal members don’t have a strong connection or a connection at all to their iwi.

On the back of that, he says some family are keeping to their own whānau, “and so those whānau aren’t having a connection to their iwi and marae.”

“I just think that’s a real shame that we’re almost breeding a disconnect and I’d like to see us really look at how do we really dive into who’s going to receive the tribal offers over the long term.”

Tikao is keen to hear from iwi stakeholders and beneficiaries about their perceptions and opinions of Ngāi Tahu and how it is distributing wealth.

"I would like to get feedback from people who are the missing voice of iwi, often not heard from directly due to their disconnection from their marae," he says.

"There are whānau who are falling through the cracks and dealing with inequality, unemployment and ill-health - what are they gaining from tribal asset growth?"

Help for other iwi

Tikao hopes his PhD, due to be submitted at the end of next year, will help other tribes that receive Treaty settlements to manage and distribute their resources effectively.

To build the tribe's asset base for future generations, Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu has adopted a mix of investment and reinvestment in a broad portfolio including property, tourism, seafood, shares and exchange-traded funds. The protection of cultural assets is also a key consideration.

Tikao says the iwi has already turned a $170 million settlement received in 1998 into a $1.5 billion asset base.

"We were one of the first to settle, so there are other iwi who can potentially learn from our experiences," he says.

Tikao's research is being supervised by UC Ngāi Tahu scholar Dr Matthew Scobie, and UC Ngāi Tahu Research Centre Senior Research Fellow Dr John Reid. Associate supervision is by Dr Tyron Love, University of Auckland.