Indigenous history, culture and values as investment philosophy for Māori

Associate Professor Ella Henry - IIRC20
Wednesday, November 18, 2020

This paper argues that Māori history, culture and values inform the investment philosophy and approach of Māori Asset Holding Institutions (MAHI). MAHI have evolved over the last twenty-five years, as the investment and commercial arms of iwi (tribal) organizations, in Aotearoa New Zealand. These entities seek to grow and sustain the financial and natural resources under tribal ownership and control, often as a consequence of Treaty settlements. The settlement process originates from the creation of the Waitangi Tribunal in 1975, to address breaches by the Crown of the Treaty of Waitangi, which was signed between chiefs and the British Crown in 1840. The Treaty was underpinned by decades of positive interactions between the British and Māori, the Indigenous people of Aotearoa. In 1985, the Waitangi Tribunal was given the power to look retrospectively at breaches from 1840 onwards. This opened the gates to thousands of claims, outlining egregious acts by successive colonial and settler governments, including invasion, warfare, and expropriation of the land and the economic foundations of pre-colonial Māori society. The earliest tribal Treaty settlements date from the 1990s.

This paper discusses the application of tikanga and mātauranga Māori to iwi investment firms. It provides a critical review of the literature, on the socio-cultural and historical context of Māori investment thinking. The paper will shed light on the differences between an Indigenous investment framework, and traditional western frameworks. It also seeks to draw attention to the need for further research on the performance and operations of Māori investments. As noted by Frederick & Henry, "The further study of Māori entrepreneurship must examine both commercial and non-commercial bodies set up to administer Māori resources and iwi, entities set up by the Crown as well as bodies formed by Māori in an attempt to keep control of their own resources. This would include case
studies of commercial initiatives iwi have taken with the funds obtained through the Treaty claims settlement process" (2004: 134). Thus, a review of the strategies developed and adopted by Iwi entities, and their consequent investments, is timely. This is particularly relevant as Aotearoa New Zealand wrestles with the economic and social impacts of Covid-19, which has had a profound impact on business, employment and finance. For a number of Iwi, the pandemic has been devastating for tourism ventures and primary industries. Hitchcock (2020) states that “The $50 billion Māori economy is now worth $40 billion. Māori unemployment will rise dramatically. Iwi organisations and land trusts that are heavily invested in tourism, forestry and international equities are facing massive reductions in their balance sheets.” It is into this milieu that an exploration is Māori investment strategies, founded on Māori values and culture, may offer insights into more robust and culturally appropriate models for addressing the poverty and inequity that many Māori continue to face.