Eye on Māori economic development

26 Aug, 2015
AUT Business School graduate and Head of Te Wānanga o Aotearoa Jim Mather's PhD thesis on Māori economic development traces Māoridom from its first beginnings in New Zealand, the 19th century land sequestrations, the 1960s urbanisation of the country, through to the ongoing Treaty settlements from the 1990s.

Ten years on from Ngāti Awa’s Treaty settlement, it’s time for a reassessment according to AUT Business School graduate Dr Jim Mather.

And, this critical ‘reassessment’ is exactly what Mather, former chief executive of Māori Television, and now head of Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, set out to do in his PhD thesis on Māori economic development through AUT’s Business School. His research, captured in 300 pages, traces Māoridom from its first beginnings in New Zealand, the 19th century land sequestrations, the 1960s urbanisation of the country, through to the ongoing Treaty settlements from the 1990s.

Mather’s thesis, the pièce de resistance of a six year PhD journey at AUT’s Business School, uses his own tribe, Ngāti Awa, as a case study. It looks critically at how Ngāti Awa has been led, made its decisions, and measured its progress.

The result of Mather’s research and analysis, is an in-depth and critical insight into how his own iwi dealt with its Treaty settlement, and concludes with the honest admission that, had Ngāti Awa been more effective in its post-treaty settlement phase, it would have held a stronger economic position today.

Calling time on the ‘old guard’
For Mather, success in strategic planning for iwi in 21st century New Zealand comes down to effective leadership.

“Those who won the war might not necessarily be the right leaders to win the peace.

“It’s time to call time on the old guard – they need to hand over the reins to a new generation of Māori leaders who are equipped with the right skills and experience to ensure survival and the optimisation of cultural, community and commercial success,” says Mather.

“It’s time for us to create more opportunities for our younger leaders to stand up and make their own contributions to their iwi. It’s about creating a succession plan that’s sustainable for iwi in New Zealand.”

Doing right by Māori economic development

Mather’s research shows scepticism in the philosophy of a separate Māori economy.

“Māori are not running their businesses in isolation from mainstream New Zealand. It’s not possible to operate in a segregated, isolated manner.”

However, Mather reminds us that Māori have the potential to be major players in New Zealand’s post-Treaty settlement economy.

“But we need effective leadership to do right by the concept of Māori economic development.

Mather also notes in his thesis that where iwi have been successful economically, it is when they have taken care to treat their tribal and commercial arms as separate entities. This is a model Mather backs, but not without caution.

“The commercial arm also has to understand that they are there to serve the people, and not vice versa.”

Remaining relevant
Having a sense of unity in leadership, and sound decision-making processes, combined with a desire to accept and understand rapidly evolving technology as a useful mode of communication, is key to ensuring iwi remain relevant, particular amongst the youth.

“Many see engaging with their iwi as ‘moumou taima’ – a waste of time. We need to change this mindset, and we need to do it by re-engaging the 85% that are currently actively disengaged with their iwi.”

A blueprint to move forward
AUT Pro Vice Chancellor and Professor of Public Policy, Ian Shirley, who supervised Mather’s research believes that Mather’s very unique and authentic approach to understanding the Māori economy is one of the main reasons that this research has such value and resonance with Māori across the board, from traditional iwi to young urban Māori.

“Instead of comparing the Māori economy as a snapshot in time, against the general economy, Jim looked at the patterns of Māori development over time and drew on the work of noted Māori scholars,” says Professor Shirley

“This distinctive approach gives his work an authenticity and resonance that is not easy to achieve.”  

AUT Pro Vice Chancellor of Māori Advancement and Dean of Te Ara Poutama, Professor Pare Keiha was also a co-supervisor of Mather’s research.

“Jim’s work is a brave investigation of the status quo of his own iwi and how they can move forward in 21st century New Zealand,” says Professor Keiha.

“But it is also much more than that – it is a ‘blueprint’ for other iwi of how current progress could be improved upon to achieve stronger economic outcomes for iwi and for New Zealand.”

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