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Māori contributions to the world

11 Jun 2016
By Karl Wixon

The modern Māori story is one of a shift from grievance to growth, and provides a source of inspiration for many, and a model to emulate. The rapid rise of the Māori economy over the last 20 years to an asset base of more than $40 billion today, shows how people and the planet can be enhanced through business growth – not become victims of it. 

Within the global indigenous community Māori are often viewed as leaders, innovators and fearless guardians, delivering culturally-based approaches providing new models of care, growth and development. 

One example is the transformation of the education system from Kōhanga Reo (pre-school language nests), introduced in the 1980s through to Wānanga (Māori tertiary education institutions). Te Wānanga o Aotearoa is the second largest tertiary institution in New Zealand and possibly the largest indigenous tertiary provider in the world. Wānanga have also played an influential role in the development of indigenous education globally, through New Zealand’s participation in, and leadership of, the World Indigenous Nations Higher Education Consortium (WINHEC), currently co-chaired by Māori leader Trevor Moeke. 

Moeke says Māori provide an example to the world of an indigenous people taking on responsibility and leadership. “Māori are fearless in the face of indignity, and in grappling with correcting indignity. [We are also] becoming more and more accountable for what aspects in society challenge us, generation by generation.” 

Rukumoana Schaafhausen, Deputy Chair, Tainui, says the “Māori way of doing things” is at the heart of a lot of global thinking and research on topics such as cultural intelligence, diversity, social enterprise, sustainable business models and environmental custodianship. 

The rise of tribal entities and their increasingly important role in the New Zealand economy is also a source of inspiration for indigenous people worldwide. For example, Ngāi Tahu and Tainui received treaty settlement packages of around $170 million. Today these tribes control net assets worth $1.2 billion and $1.1 billion respectively, and their economic activity plays an important part in improving the day-to-day lives and opportunities for tribal members. 

He Kai Kei Aku Ringa (the Crown-Māori Economic Growth Partnership) is a great example of how the New Zealand Government is responding to and supporting the growth of an indigenous economy. The Te Hono primary sector movement is one of the best contemporary examples of the potential that can be derived from economic collaboration between indigenous peoples, private sector and government. 

Te Hono has spawned and supported many collaborative ventures and world-leading innovations – such as Precision Seafood Harvesting’s revolutionary fishing technology that does away with traditional trawl nets to allow fish to be landed alive and in good condition. 

While Treaty of Waitangi settlements have contributed to growth of the Māori economy from an estimated value of $9 billion in 1991 to over $42 billion today, the offering that underpins all of these stories is a cultural one. Māori ways of relating, doing, and inhabiting the world are increasingly being seen as a template for how the world could or should be – how people and planet could and should interact with one another. 

Māori culture already holds blueprints for a better world, blueprints that have been handed down through generations, and blueprints that are openly shared. At its core, Māori culture is inherently deferential to the environment and respectful of people. Traits that have rubbed off on all New Zealanders, and traits the world needs if we are all to become better global citizens.