Indigenous Development and the Māori Experience

A New Zealand Perspective

Indigenous Development and the Māori Experience


12 to 15 March, CHILE



Ka tangi te tītī

Ka tangi te kākā

Ka tangi hoki aha e tū atu nei

E ngā manu tīkaokao ō ngā hau e whā

o ngā iwi taketake Mapuche arā no te motu Rapanui

Tēnā Koutou

Pai Mārire



The Māori proverb I referred to in my opening remarks speaks of the tītī, or the short-tailed Shearwater bird, which migrates annually to the northern hemisphere and then returns again to New Zealand each year.

In Māori tradition, birds, or manu, are considered as messengers, guardians and keepers of sacred knowledge.  He rerenga kotuku is referred to as the rare visit of the white heron.  That in a sense is the metaphor for the context of this visit - although we are not frequent visitors to your country, Aotearoa New Zealand enjoys a warm and positive relationship with Chile.

It gives me great pleasure to be invited to participate in this dialogue on indigenous development at the invitation of the Minister of Social Development – Alfredo Moreno to discuss and share experiences from my country’s perspective.

Iwi taketake or indigenous peoples from the four corners of the world have much in common, and the opportunity to share knowledge, experience, insight and inspire the journey we continue to undertake to advance indigenous development can accelerate transformation.

This can impact at all levels to address some common challenges experienced in our respective countries, such as:

  • improving rural economies
  • providing for greater participation of indigenous enterprise
  • lifting the skill and technological enhancement; and
  • accelerate business growth and enhance indigenous co-operation as a core feature of country relationships.

My people hold stories of the kumara or sweet potato which was bought to the shores of Aotearoa New Zealand by a female ancestor Whakaotirangi from Parinuiterā - a place we are told is somewhere in South America.  The planting and storage of this ancient food crop evolved across the Pacific, with very different climatic conditions forming a new knowledge base. 

The Māori people have an ancient tradition of voyaging the Pacific region until landing and settling in Aotearoa New Zealand.  Again this mātauranga or knowledge has remained as a tangible example of how we retain our connection as Māori to the Mapuche people of your region and Rapanui also.

Our country’s experience is that there is the capacity for a Māori world view to influence the significant issues facing our country.  Inequality and poverty, climate change, regional growth and development, the restoration and protection of our rivers, lakes and oceans, the restoration of indigenous biodiversity and traditional knowledge, sustainable food production and economic transformation.

These are some of the areas that Māori are seeking greater input into shaping the way in which our country determines its way forward.  We are able to assert this viewpoint because of our historical context and the maturing of the way we participate and contribute to our Nations development.  This is not a smooth path but it is a road that we are determined to travel down.

The kaupapa of this forum seeks out perspectives on Indigenous Development.

Events such as this provide a platform for indigenous, academic and business leaders, alongside government to come together to discuss indigenous development and consider tangible steps to move forward.  Aotearoa New Zealand has a warm relationship with Chile and my visit is another opportunity to reinforce that significance.

In the Pacific we are acutely aware that our Polynesian whānau or family will be significantly affected by rising sea-levels as will several of our coastal communities in Aotearoa New Zealand.  We are prone to the intergenerational impact of inequality and poverty if we do not change.  The time for a fresh perspective and leadership must be now.

Indigenous aspirations have several common denominators but I think the survival and longevity of the next generation and the sustainable use of our natural resources is fundamental.

When I think about the legacy of indigenous leadership in my own country there are numerous examples, as I am sure there are in yours.  People who challenged and changed the status quo, even women who were prepared to stand unencumbered by society or cultural constraints to advocate for change.

So, we are not having a new conversation.  We are mobilising our energy to achieve change for the better, with a collective aspiration in mind. That means Government, business, indigenous communities being prepared to shift the dialogue for change.

I will attempt to characterise the extent of our journey in Aotearoa New Zealand.


Māori are an indigenous minority in our nation, a consequence of British colonisation of our country.  The historical marker used to demarcate this era in our Nation’s narrative is the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 and is considered the founding document for our country.

The Treaty is an agreement, written in Māori and English that was formed between the British Crown and Māori rangatira or chiefs.  As a broad statement of principles the Treaty was the basis on which Māori and the British made a political pact to found a nation state and constitute a government in Aotearoa New Zealand.

We have had a contested debate about the ability of the Crown to uphold the intentions of the Treaty.  A Tribunal was mandated in 1975 to adjudicate such disputes making recommendations to Government for consideration.  For the purposes of this forum I wish to highlight that the advancement of Māori aspirations has often emerged as a result of the challenge to the principles of the Treaty and its application in law – or might I add, the absence of the Treaty within a policy or legal setting.

The source of tension as you would expect arose from the acquisition of land.  Much of the land acquisition was through confiscation and statute.  Colonisation and the introduction of a western land tenure system fundamentally led to the assertion of individual title on what had formerly been a collective model of occupancy, rights to land usage and succession based on kinship.  Ironically the Māori Land Court once responsible for the imposition of a western land tenure system was refocussed in 1993 to restore, as close as possible a Māori lens to assure the protection and utilisation of Māori land.  The Māori Land Court is presided over by a body of Māori judges who have the ability to apply a judicial and tikanga or a Māori customary lens to Māori land matters.

Over time Māori have organised their land interests and now occupy influential commercial interests in the primary sector industries of fisheries, agriculture, horticulture, forestry and emerging influence in new areas of food and beverage, honey production, tourism and digital technology.

The Treaty Settlement process that we have to resolve historical injustices have also seen the return of natural resources and fiscal compensation to assist in the advancement of Māori aspiration.  The Treaty Settlement process has also seen the rise of new co-governance arrangements over lakes, rivers and national parks, entry into geothermal energy production and resource protection of unique resources such as pounamu or greenstone.


Despite the successes, challenges still remain, particularly when we look to the future and an aspiration of moving towards a value-add economy where provenance and the regional story can enhance our differentiation in the domestic and international marketplace.

The mainstream business community is shifting towards a more holistic view, encompassing themes of sustainability, relationships , cultural authenticity and social outcomes – which are well aligned to an indigenous approach to business as it contributes to prosperity and wellbeing outcomes of whānau or family groups.

Internationally, governments are recognising that if their indigenous people do well, the entire community benefits.  Our experience from Aotearoa New Zealand shows that the distinctiveness of the products and services offered by Māori people are enabling a competitive advantage that benefits Aotearoa New Zealand in so many ways.  The diversification of the Māori economic enterprise in the primary sector provides practical and tangible opportunities for indigenous co-operation agreements.

The value of this approach is not necessarily about the volume of trade benefits to a country but rather the transformation of domestic economies to advantage indigenous peoples to participate in a more inclusive economy that has wider societal advantages which underpin thriving rural and regional growth - sustainable wellbeing for our indigenous peoples.

The Māori economy sits at approximately $50 billion and represents 6% of New Zealand’s asset base.  We need to ensure that economic development opportunities for Māori are balanced with our social, cultural and environmental priorities so our people, resources and culture can thrive in a way that is beneficial.  Our experience is that diversification of the Māori asset base is required to ensure resilience in the long term.

Our working people are generally operating in lower skilled jobs, in traditional industries, leaving them vulnerable to economic changes and shocks – with women and young people being particularly vulnerable.

Māori performance in education requires a significant shift to enable our young people to be able to compete in an increasingly automated, globalised and diversified economy.

There are also challenges affecting the ability of Māori to utilise their assets according to their own values and ways of doing things.  There are also challenges faced by businesses relating to access to finance capital and capability investment.

Traditional knowledge, which we call mātauranga Māori, forms the basis of that distinctiveness and there is growing recognition of the value of that knowledge.  In this context, the opportunities have never been greater for indigenous people and businesses.  However, adequate protections must be put in place to ensure that there is a means for indigenous peoples to safeguard the use of their knowledge with a legislative framework in place to enable the benefit of sharing the knowledge in the development of products that go to market.

Our Government is looking at addressing this within our domestic context of the Treaty of Waitangi report relating to indigenous flora, fauna and intellectual property matters.  This approach will enable us to consider the full range of sectors that would benefit from a proactive engagement with Māori once we are able to address the Indigenous Intellectual Property matters more fully.


In this new conversation we are having, the role of Government has three characteristics - that of Activator, Enabler and Partner.

As activator, our Government is seeking to create the conditions for a productive, inclusive, sustainable economy, focusing on regional growth.  Integrating Māori investment is a significant opportunity.  

We have established the Māori Crown portfolio and are committed to intergenerational outcomes for Māori.  This means advancing a whole of government approach that considers Māori interests within the policy regulatory settings of our decision-making process.  This includes but is not limited to; tax reform, natural resource settings in relation to water, the well-being of children and justice reform.  

We are committing to a well-being approach to the Governments budget settings and including a Māori world view is essential.

As enabler, the Government is seeking opportunities for Māori to:

  • be engaged in all levels of decision-making
  • have equitable access to employment, business and investment opportunities
  • be provided with the tools to enable a transition to high value sectors and the low carbon economy; and
  • have access to good infrastructure and key services.

Our Government is working on employment strategies which are community led regional programmes to support young people into jobs.  We are also developing a skills strategy that will inform investment to ensure that young people or rangatahi in the regions are able to get jobs and benefit from complementary skills training and support.  In addition, we have a Māori economic development strategy, where my own Ministry and other Government agencies work together to support a wide range of economic development activities.

As partner, our Government continues to progress the Treaty Settlement process as a means to resolve historical grievances and in a post-settlement context, works towards the implementation of those agreements.

A direct consequence of this approach has also led to co-design aspirations in the public policy space where Ministers, Government agencies and Māori are working to determine how this might lift outcomes and reverse the negative statistics we face in areas such as vulnerable children, health and justice to name a few.


Trade is crucial to this country’s well-being.  In Aotearoa New Zealand alone, more than 620,000 people rely on exports for their livelihood.  In addition, our research has shown that businesses that trade in international markets are more productive, larger, invest more, and pay higher wages.  However, the main challenge internationally is rising protectionism which threatens the rules-based trading system and discontent with globalisation.

I know that many Māori and potentially, other indigenous peoples have serious questions about globalisation.  I am aware that this view is particularly held by young people.  This is why domestic solutions to social and economic challenges need to be inclusive of opportunities that can support indigenous models for development.

This should hardly come as a surprise that we have seen a global trend of young people showing dissatisfaction with our political systems, and calling on us to do things differently – why wouldn’t they when they themselves have had to adapt so rapidly to a changing world.

Our Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in her speech to the United Nations, highlighted that the answer does not lie in protectionism, but rather through multilateralism and collaboration.  On an indigenous level this statement is even more pertinent.  Exploring the potential of greater co-operation between countries is an approach that I would encourage.

In Aotearoa New Zealand, we are currently consulting with our people and communities to develop a progressive trade agenda policy.  What we want to figure out is how to set trade policy that will deliver for all New Zealanders, whoever and wherever they are.  For women, Māori, small and medium enterprise we need an approach that deepens its ambition for prosperity and advantage to foster an economy that is truly inclusive.

Our goal is a trade policy that works alongside other government policies, to support sustainable and inclusive economic development.  To achieve more for all our people and all our businesses, while Maori continue to articulate and implement self-determination.  This is not an exercise in perfection but rather applied development – it is responsive to our evolving context and political sensitivities.

The challenge is to ensure that we can protect rights and interests but also, leverage a competitive advantage on a platform of indigeneity.  My role as Minister for Māori Development is to assist that ambition.


In closing, while it may be convenient to retain a high level aspiration for Māori or Indigenous development, we need to get back to basics and have a sense of what success would look like.  As the saying goes, we need to get back to “where the rubber hits the road”.

Success is not just about economic development, although it does help.  The aspirations of Māori are holistic  - social, environmental and cultural aspirations must advance with the same level of attention for Māori to feel that progress has been made.

Māori bring a different perspective and world view to these important conversations about tribal development, political advocacy, community and family transformation, leadership and excellence.  We seek out a wellbeing vision that puts our children and future descendants at the centre to achieve intergenerational wellbeing.

Our Government seeks to introduce a new framework to its leadership of wellbeing.  We are developing a framework which I alluded to earlier that will inform our Government’s decision-making and investment in cross agency priorities to lift the wellbeing of the most vulnerable and seek outcomes for areas where there is significant inequity.  Children, Māori, women, the disabled, the vulnerable and elderly feature predominantly in this approach.

This brings me to the Living Standards Framework which is an attempt by our Government to take a different approach to the way we prioritise our decisions and investments to address intergenerational outcomes.  We realise we cannot continue to take the same approach and expect a different outcome – a new way is needed.

It is trying to look beyond GDP as a measure of our national wellbeing and take a more holistic approach to our wellbeing and prosperity.  The Living Standards Framework should represent the values and aspirations of our country.  But, to be effective, this framework needs to incorporate a Māori perspective – not just for the benefit of Māori people, but for the benefit of the nation.  It contributes to our uniqueness as indigenous peoples, and as a nation.  It should, in my view, be the living embodiment of what the Treaty of Waitangi envisaged for all citizens, and Māori as indigenous peoples in particular.

The indigenous component of the framework has real potential to shift the type of conversation that policy makers can lead towards a long term vision, prioritises investment, commits to integrated solutions and focuses on outcomes that improve wellbeing, and shares prosperity.

Embedding a Māori world view within the Living Standards Framework, alongside other changes to legislation helps to create a new environment.  By taking an approach that factors in Māori perspectives of wellbeing which sit beyond an economic measure will mean we can put a ‘true value’ on things like language, culture, identity, belonging, connectedness as well as an emphasis on whānau or the collective rather than the individual.

This convergence of thinking means government agencies will need to change their approach and stop looking for singular solutions to the most complex challenges.  This means working towards shared outcomes and alongside the aspirations of Māori.  We are at a point in our journey as a country where Government is committed to partnership and we are promoting a co-design approach to the challenges we are now confronted with.

The economic development profile for Māori as an Indigenous people has matured alongside our aspirations for the future.  We are on the next stage of the journey - seeking the wellbeing of our whānau, culture and environment to lead ourselves towards greater prosperity and wellbeing.  In many respects this is the next stage of our intrepid journey.

Thank you once again for the invitation to share our country context.

No reira tēnā koutou katoa

Pai Mārire