Story: Ngā haumi a iwi – Māori investment

Through the 19th and 20th centuries Māori tribes lost land and coastal fisheries that were the basis of their economy. But careful management, together with the restoration of assets into tribal control, saw Māori businesses thrive in the early 2000s – by 2006 tribes owned over $16 billion in assets.

Story by Edward Ellison
Main image: Wine tasting at Tohu vineyard

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Trade and land loss

In the 19th century Māori rapidly adapted their traditional bartering system to trade with Europeans. Tribes regularly supplied meat and vegetables to growing towns, and some exported food and flax.

Throughout the mid-19th century Māori lost land. Confiscations after the New Zealand wars included large areas of fertile land which had been the base of tribal economies. Land losses continued in the 20th century.

Treaty settlements

In 1975 the government set up the Waitangi Tribunal to look into government infringements of the Treaty of Waitangi. In 1985 the tribunal began to investigate Māori grievances such as land loss. In a landmark case in 1987 the High Court required the Crown to acknowledge potential Māori claims to land being transferred to Crown-owned companies. Settlements of iwi (tribal) cases taken to the Waitangi Tribunal have seen land and fisheries restored to tribal ownership. Large settlements like Tainui and Ngāi Tahu have included millions of dollars of compensation.

In 2004 tribes owned 5% of New Zealand’s land, though much of it was poor or unworkable.

Tribal investment

Māori tribal lands often have many owners and have trouble attracting investment. In the early 2000s the average holding was 59 hectares and had 73 owners. However land incorporations and trusts allow tribes to manage lands effectively, for example the Lake Taupo Forestry Trust brought together 60 different holdings on 31,000 hectares. The trust runs a joint forestry venture with the Crown.


In two settlements in 1989 and 1992 a third of New Zealand’s commercial fisheries were returned to tribal ownership. A commission was set up to help Māori enter into the commercial fishing industry, and to decide how to allocate fishery assets among tribes. This was finally resolved in 2004. $300 million in assets went to tribes, and a further $300 million went to a new Māori-owned company, Aotearoa Fisheries Limited.

Māori investment

Tribal investors have learnt not to mix up tribal decision-making and business decision-making. But Māori measure business success in more than just monetary terms. They value land and asset ownership in their own district, and businesses which employ local people and are good for the environment. Māori investors also prefer to link with other Māori ventures to improve Māori economic development.

Ngāi Tahu Holdings is based in the South Island and manages investments in property, fisheries and tourism on behalf of Ngāi Tahu. In 2008 it had assets of $644 million. Another large iwi investor is Tainui Group Holdings, which had assets of $496 million in 2008.

In 2006 Māori-owned assets were worth a total of $16.5 billion.

How to cite this page:

Edward Ellison, 'Ngā haumi a iwi – Māori investment', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 19 April 2024)

Story by Edward Ellison, published 11 March 2010