By John Tamihere
I don’t often lose my cool but when it comes to standing up for the rights of those less fortunate or Maori, then I will put on the boxing gloves - whether it be in the political or legal ring.
I reflect on this because of the stand Iwi are taking against Urban Maori and the Fisheries Settlement.
This wasn’t my proudest moment as a politician but in 2004 when I was MP for Tāmaki Makaurau, I threatened to punch my Labour Party colleague David Benson-Pope in the head. I know my threat was inappropriate, as were one or two others actions I took in the later stages of my political career.
But I can honestly say at the time I was overwhelmed by the emotion of the moment.
Benson-Pope, who later failed to avoid hits of another kind (which ultimately ended his political career) was Minister of Fisheries. He was tasked with completing legislation to conclude the contentious and litigious Māori Fisheries Act. The Act aimed to set up structures and processes to protect and distribute assets from the 1992 Māori Fisheries settlement.
The stoush between Benson-Pope and myself was the culmination of an arduous and stressful campaign to ensure urban Māori - two thirds who live away from their Iwi rohe - were included as beneficiaries of the massive fisheries settlement.
As someone born and bred in West Auckland among the vibrant and proud people whom that community embraces, I was and remain passionate about ensuring that all Māori – especially those distant from the support of their whānau and Iwi (many who do not even know their Iwi) – were able to access resources from the “Sealord Settlement”
For many urban Māori, putting food on the table is the daily key priority. And it is often to organisations like Te Whānau o Waipareira, or Hamilton-based Te Kohao Health, who whānau turn to when times are tough. Keeping in contact and connected with Iwi often hundreds of kilometres away, is a luxury many cannot afford. For many of our whānau the disconnection from their Iwi is into a second and third generation. Knowledge of who they are and where they come from has been lost. This is a sad reality and underlines an apathetic approach by many Iwi leaders to reconnect with lost members.
However, back to the issue of the fisheries settlement. Benson-Pope just wanted the legislation passed and was set on appeasing the various demands of Iwi leaders. In the heat of the moment my threat came and went, as I attempted to emphasise the importance of ensuring the massive number of urban Māori, who make up more than 80 per cent of Māori, figured in the settlement.
As a result of the actions of many who were dedicated to meeting the needs of urban Māori, a compromise was reached whereby $20 million was set aside for an Urban Māori fund - Te Pūtea Whakatupu.
Another key component of the legislation was to set a time-frame (12 years) for its structures to be reviewed. It was expected that within that time, all allocations to Iwi would have been made, and Iwi would be better placed to take full control of the fisheries assets managed by Te Ohu Kai Moana (TOKM).
Sadly, Iwi, who through TOKM have tried to dominate decision-making and the expenditure of the Urban Maori fund, through a process of appointing two of the three directors of the trust and have now set about using this review to take full control of the Urban Māori fund under an Iwi only controlled trust.
Last year an independent statutory review of the Act’s governance arrangements, ownership and superstructure, was done by Wellington Lawyer, Time Castle. Earlier this year he released his findings in Taia Kia Matariki – Independent Review of Māori Commercial Fisheries Structures under the Māori Fisheries Act 2004. Mr Castle recommended that TOKM not appoint directors to the Urban Māori Trust.
His review was in turn assessed by a sub-committee of the Maori Fisheries Commission – TOKM. Unsurprisingly the directors and management of TOKM have resisted many of the major recommendations of the report, and in doing so have sought to ensure their jobs and generous directors fees will continue.
The chairman of Ngāpuhi Sonny Tau who is deputy chairman of TOKM is one of the directors who want to take control of the Urban Māori fund. This is a disgrace, and a kick in the teeth of the Urban Māori Authorities such as Te Whānau o Waipareira who do more for Ngāpuhi most in need in West Auckland than the Kaikohe-based Iwi, who happily pocketed $60 million in fisheries assets, does.
It is Urban Māori that do the heavy lifting in helping those most in need in our cities. We must toil and account for every cent of social service funding and contracts we receive. There is no settlement funding for us. We have learned to battle for funding so we can assist those who face desperate times in our community. And, be warned, we will fight to keep what is rightly allocated to serve the needs of Urban Māori.
The Pūtea Whakatupu fund set aside $20 million to support the needs and aspirations of Urban Māori, through education and training. Through the courts and the various challenges to the settlement and proposed structures it was eventually accepted and acknowledged that all Māori should benefit from the settlement. The bid to deprive Urban Māori of this fund is an outrage.
It saddens me that many Māori do not know what Iwi they come from. I am Ngāti Porou and also from the Hauraki area which makes me very proud to know where I am from. More must be done by Iwi to find, educate and inform their lost people. There are many rewards from knowing who you are and where you come from. Sadly many Māori have much more pressing needs and are unable to embark on this journey alone. This is where the National Urban Māori Authority must do what we can to help.