In 1998, Mark Solomon took over the role of kaiwhakahaere, or chair, of Ngāi Tahu’s tribal council, just as the South Island iwi was about to sign its Treaty of Waitangi settlement with the Crown. The $170 million settlement fell far, far short of what was owed the tribe — but, by the time Mark stepped down, 18 years later, Ngāi Tahu had established itself as an economic powerhouse with more than $1.5 billion in assets.
Mark’s memoir, Mana Whakatipu, written with Mark Revington and published by Massey University Press, was released last week and is excerpted here.
Big day out
In the beginning, I was tongue-tied and terrified. I had been a member of the Ngāi Tahu council — what we call “the table” — for three years, but here I was, in September 1998, newly elected as kaiwhakahaere or chair of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu and I had to front up on one of our biggest days in 150 years: the third and final reading in Parliament of the Ngāi Tahu Claims Settlement Bill.
This settlement has been hailed as one of the pioneering negotiations of the modern Treaty of Waitangi settlement process and set precedents for all negotiations that have followed.
For Ngāi Tahu, who occupy the major part of Te Waipounamu, the South Island, it was seen as some level of justice and redress for the wrongs that had been committed against us, even if it was too little and too late.
In the nineteenth century, our ancestors, who had long had contact with Europeans and intermarried with them, had sold land to the Crown — 80 per cent of Te Waipounamu, in fact — but the Crown had not honoured the deal. Ngāi Tahu was ripped off. The tribe had been fighting to overturn that wrong for seven generations.
The Crown reckoned full redress was worth around $12 to $15 billion. Our advisers thought it was closer to $20 billion. We settled for $170 million — a lot less, but it allowed Ngāi Tahu to move forward, to rebuild.
And that we would: by the time I stepped down as kaiwhakahaere 18 years later, Ngāi Tahu had assets worth more than $1.5 billion and the tribe was widely regarded as economically astute.
Outside the Grand Hall of Parliament, there were television crews and more than a hundred people waiting to be welcomed. As Ngāi Tahu kaiwhakahaere, it was my job to deliver the whaikōrero on behalf of Ngāi Tahu, but my grasp of te reo Māori was basic at best. I’d never been a public person and I was terrified.
I stammered through the pōwhiri, and afterwards I realised that I hadn’t acknowledged all the rangatira from other tribes who had come to tautoko us, support us. I was hugely embarrassed.
When I went to explain, I found them all standing together.
“Uncle,” I said to Api Mahuika, the leader of Ngāti Porou. “I’ve come to apologise for not acknowledging you being here to support Ngāi Tahu.”
Api looked at me with a big smile on his face and said, “Oh, boy. We could see the tūtae running down the back of your legs.”
He had forgiven me. That afternoon, I began to realise the goodwill that existed in the highest echelons of the government towards Ngāi Tahu.
At the pōwhiri, we did the hongi and the harirū, then shook hands. When I got up to Jim Bolger, who, after a leadership challenge, had left Parliament four months earlier, he had his business card in his hand.
He slipped it into mine and said, “My private number’s on there. Any support or help you need, ring whenever you like.” It was the first time I had met him. The same thing happened with Doug Graham, who was then the Minister of Treaty Negotiations.
It had taken seven years to reach settlement, since the Waitangi Tribunal hearings in which Ngāi Tahu had conclusively proved that we had been rorted by the Crown, but now Bolger and Graham were more than happy to help.
Two months later, Bolger’s successor as prime minister, Jenny Shipley, delivered the Crown’s apology to Ngāi Tahu at Ōnuku Marae, near Akaroa on Banks Peninsula.
We are a people of long memory. Some of our whakataukī appear in this book. Our ancestors had signed the Treaty in 1840 at Ōnuku, Ōtakou and Ruapuke Island. Finally we were getting some justice. Many Ngāi Tahu had fought for this moment.
I got my first job in 1969, when I was 16. I had conned my mother into allowing me to have a Christmas job at the Borthwicks Freezing Works, where Mum worked in the cafeteria. She knew the union delegate on the slaughter board, and so I got a role there.
When I got my first weekly pay packet, there was $96 inside, at a time when the average wage was $64. I came home and said, “Look at this, Mum. I ain’t going back to school.” I was six foot two and a half inches, and weighed 18 stone. There wasn’t a hell of a lot my mother could do.
“Oh, you have to,” she said. “Your father would have never let you leave school without qualifications.”
“Well, he isn’t here,” I said. “I’m leaving school, Mum. I’m not going back.”
My first job at the works was as a labourer on the gut table. The butchers would gut the sheep and I would either be ringing, which is cutting out the anus, or after the gut was put on the table, I’d be stripping the kidneys and liver off. Or I’d be on a machine that would cut through the chest bones so you could get the lungs and heart out.
There were about five roles on the gut table and you rotated every 20 minutes. It was a good job. I did four seasons, and during the last season I was being trained up as a butcher. I cruised in a sort of drunken haze for a few years. Not that I was ever good at the drinking.
The night before I started, my mother said, “You better sit down. I have something to tell you. When you get to the freezing works, you might meet a family by the name of Crofts and they might tell you that you’ve got a younger brother. I don’t know if it’s true. Your father’s not here anymore to defend himself or not, but they might say something.”
This was a bit like meeting my older half-brother, but I didn’t get much more information from her.
The next day I was taken onto the slaughter board by a board walker. As I walked onto the board, someone said, “Hey, Solomon. Do you know you’ve got a younger brother?”
“Yeah, I do, thank you,” I said. “My mum told me last night, but thanks for bringing it up.”
Whoa. There was so much information about my family that seemed to be mentioned as an afterthought, and so many things I didn’t know about my dad.
I enjoyed the freezing works because it seemed to be a microcosm of New Zealand, but I didn’t think of the works as a real job because it was seasonal and you always had to find something in the off-season.
In the first off-season, I did shearing. I went out with a blade-shearing gang who used the old hand blades instead of the electric. Some of the shearers were amazing. They’d do 360 to 380 sheep a day.
It’s the only job I’ve ever been sacked from. I was the presser, pressing the wool, and so part of my job was to make sure that the pens were full for the shearers. This wool classer kept yelling out, “Pen,” which meant the pens needed more sheep for the shearers. I’d stop to go and move them, only to discover that all of the pens had sheep, and yet he did it all morning. When it came to lunchtime, he said, “You can work through because you’re behind.”
“I’m not working through,” I said. “You’ve messed me around all morning.”
“You’re sacked,” he said.
“Suit yourself,” I said, and I walked out. As I came out of the hut with my gear, the farmer saw me and asked, “What are you doing?”
I explained that I had been sacked because I had refused to work through lunch.
“Come with me,” the farmer said, and he took me straight into the dining room, and up to the classer. “Get off my farm,” the farmer said to him.
“You heard me. You’ve pissed this boy around all morning and then you sack him because he wouldn’t work through lunch. Get off my farm.”
“You,” the farmer said to me. “Get back to work.”
I had been sacked for 20 minutes. That’s the only period of unemployment in my life.
The gang boss was an Irishman. I’d been out on the gang with him for three months when one day he said, “Mate, what religion are you?”
“I’m a Catholic,” I said. The bloke never spoke to me again. Later, he told me I wouldn’t be re-employed the next season.
“Well, good,” I replied. “I don’t want to come back. Your type of bigotry is bloody ridiculous.” Anybody who ditches someone because of their religion is an idiot, as far as I’m concerned.
The first time I saw the woman I would marry, I was 17 and at kapa haka, up home in Kaikōura. It would have been 1971. I was a smoker back then and we’d stopped for a break. I was outside having a fag when this girl walked past with her boyfriend. And I just knew she would become my wife.
I guess it could have been love at first sight, although that doesn’t really explain the certainty that I felt. I knew from the first moment. In fact, I didn’t even speak to her. She was walking past with her boyfriend, and I was with my cousin, Martin Manawatu, or Ned, as we called him. “See that girl there, Ned?” I asked him. “That’s my wife.”
“How do you know?” Ned asked, which of course was a perfectly reasonable thing to ask.
“I just know,” I said.
Everyone in Kaikōura played darts and I met her again at a darts do. Two years later, in October 1974, we got married in a Presbyterian church, her church. She was 15 minutes late because her father took the wedding car driver for a tour of his garden.
“Where the hell have you been?” I whispered to her at the altar.
“Dad had to show the driver the garden,” she said.
For years afterwards, every time we’d go home to some of my aunties, they’d say, “Now, you two, when are you getting married?”
“We are married,” I’d say.
“We mean in a proper church.”
They meant a Catholic church, of course, and we did redo our vows later in a Catholic church.
The night after I was elected kaiwhakahaere, I had only been home in Christchurch for half an hour when the phone rang. It was Lady Sandra O’Regan, the wife of Tā Tipene O’Regan, who himself was a former chair of the trust board and was the man responsible for getting Te Kerēme, as the Ngāi Tahu claim was known, over the line. He has given years of his life to Ngāi Tahu.
“Bring your wife around to my house immediately,” she said. Click.
I said to Maria, “We’re going out.” So, we went round to Sandra’s house and knocked on the door.
“Come in, please,” Sandra said to Maria. “I’ve asked Mark to bring you round so you understand what he’s got you into. He thinks he’s got a job of chairing a meeting once a month. I’m telling you, this job absolutely consumes you. He will miss every one of your children’s birthdays and yours. You will no longer be able to go out as a couple without people sitting down to talk to you. He will miss your wedding anniversary. He’ll miss everything. In fact, you are now a solo mother.”
“I thought it was just chairing a meeting once a month,” I said to Maria on the way home. “Just say, and I’ll chuck it in.”
“No, no, no. I’ll look after the kids,” she said. “You look after the tribe.”
I soon found out that Lady Sandra was right. I did miss so much over the years as kaiwhakahaere. I was constantly away on iwi matters. And I was constantly involved in dealing with Crown breaches of our settlement, things like not always offering Ngāi Tahu the first right of refusal on parcels of Crown land when they come available.
Tipene had been right when he told me that it would never be over, that the settlement would always be redefined.
To me, Maria’s a real matriarch. She runs the family. I mean that in a positive way. She’s definitely the pou or the rock of our family, more so than I am. My kids don’t come to me; they go to their mother. They come to me when they want money. Their nickname for me is “Wallet”, and my daughter has described me as a financial necessity.
Maria was 17 and I was 20 when we got married, and we had our first child three years later. We’ve been married for 46 years. I’ve been incredibly lucky. I knew from the moment I saw her that we would be together.
When I came on board in 1995, the Ngāi Tahu Trust Board only had about eight staff. We took a gamble that we would get Te Kerēme settled and increased the staff to over 40 before the settlement. We were pretty confident we’d get there, but at the time we had a big discussion at the table on what they call the green box versus the black box.
The black box was: shove the offer and we’ll slug it out in court with the Crown. The green box was that we would cut our losses, accept what the Crown was putting up and go for it — a chance for Ngāi Tahu to move forward.
The problem was that even the lawyers reckoned that if you took the Crown to court, the court would probably tell us to go back and negotiate with the Crown, so we would likely end up where we had been.
Through 10 land sales between 1840 and 1864, Ngāi Tahu had sold most of Te Waipounamu to the Crown. However, the Crown didn’t keep its side of the bargain; it didn’t pay the agreed price and it failed to set aside 10 per cent of the land in reserves for Ngāi Tahu.
The Crown had ripped the tribe off. The tribe had been seeking justice for seven generations. Te Kerēme was lodged with the Waitangi Tribunal in 1986.
In 1997, the Ngāi Tahu Deed of Settlement was signed at Takahanga Marae in Kaikōura, and the following year, when I was elected as kaiwhakahaere, the Ngāi Tahu Claims Settlement Act was passed at Parliament in Wellington.
Agreeing to the settlement was a huge thing for the Banks Peninsula hapū, who had four representatives on the Ngāi Tahu council, because the whole of the French purchase of Akaroa was excluded from it and they got nothing.
They had lost 30-something thousand acres to the French. It had always been seen as a complex issue because the French insisted they had bought land from Ngāi Tahu through two deeds of sale in 1838 and 1840, while the Crown said that the French purchases were invalid.
Of course the $170 million settlement was not equivalent to all we had lost, could never compensate for it, but at last we could move on. And I took a pragmatist’s view: if we couldn’t make it work with $170 million then it didn’t matter how much we could have got.
Once a Treaty settlement is negotiated and agreed between the Crown and claimants, an act of Parliament is generally required to enforce the terms of the settlement.
Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu was formed in 1996 to establish Ngāi Tahu as a legal entity ahead of the passing of the Ngāi Tahu Claims Settlement Act.
When the Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu structure came through, we had a meeting at home at Kaikōura. Uncle Bill held up the document. “You know that this is our new structure. I’d like a nomination that we accept.”
I said, “Uncle Bill, what’s on page thirty-five?”
“Well, I don’t know,” he said.
“Neither do I.”
“You want to read it, don’t you?” he said.
“Yeah,” I said. “Cover to cover.”
“We’re not going to have a vote today, are we?” he asked.
“Not until I’ve read it,” I replied. “I’m not going to vote for something I haven’t read.”
These extracts are from Mana Whakatipu written by Mark Solomon with Mark Revington, and published by Massey University Press.
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