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Friday 27 June 2014

Ko Ngāti Awa te toki

The meeting of the board of Te Runanga o Ngati Awa (TRONA) held in Whakatane this month was pegged as being the biggest show in town and it sure did deliver.
After failing to follow due process at the previous meeting the board was being asked to vote again on the removal of Graham Pryor from the tribe’s financial arm and the addition of Paul Quinn to Ngati Awa Group Holdings Ltd (NAGHL).
Prior to the meeting Nga Maihi representative Gina O’Brien had sent notice through the runanga’s chief executive Enid Rātahi-Pryor that her hapu wanted to attend the meeting. She conveyed that the hapu did not agree with the way the runanga had treated one of their members through the lack of process and they wanted to have their say.
Mrs O’Brien requested a speaking time for members of the hapu at the meeting.
And it was fireworks from the start.
At 9am the boardroom at Ngāti Awa house was full to capacity and Nga Maihi had turned up in force.  The room was crackling with tension.
After a slight skirmish around the agenda it was decided that the issue of Mr Pryor’s removal would be discussed at 10am.
It was then decided Mrs Rātahi-Pryor would speak to her chief executive report before the meeting discussed the issue of Mr Pryor. Mrs Rātahi-Pryoy pre-empted it with an explanation that it was an “off-reporting” month for the organisation and therefore her report was only an overview.
She then went on to outline that the board’s request for half of the Māori tax credits from NAGHL had been declined and the ramifications that had for the annual budget. She also made the recommendation that the Runanga should not appeal the commissioner’s decision from the district plan hearings into the 60 Bunyan Road and 77 Bunyan Road area.
She then spoke about the work that is happening with the carvings at Mataatua Marae and ended her report by congratulating Te Rua o Te Moko Ltd, who beat out the Runanga and Putauaki Trust to claim first spot in the Ahuwhenau awards.
The meeting then turned to the issue of Mr Pryor. TRONA chairman Joe Mason explained the previous vote had been rendered invalid because the board did not follow process and they would need to vote again.
Mrs O’Brien then requested time for discussion however Mr Mason said all of the delegates had previously had time to speak to their hapu and that they would go ahead with the vote.
He said there had also been plenty of emails shared between the board, management and others that there was no need to discuss it any further.
“No discussion, we have had enough of that and if we do we may start a war and we have had enough of that.”
Mrs O’Brien made her plea to the chairman, saying: “We have stuck to the process; we have not engaged in the emails or going to the media. We have stuck to making sure we did it the way the process says and we put our request in for our hapu to be here and speak about it.”
Her stance was supported by several members at the table and Mr Mason relented. However he said that only Mrs O’Brien could speak to the motion and no one else.
That was when the Tuteao koroua, Ngamaru Raerino, sitting behind Mrs O’Brien jumped up and addressed the chairman in te reo Māori.
I asked him afterwards to explain what he had said, to ensure that I had understood him properly, and he responded: “I said to them: You use the epigrammatic saying of Ngati Awa te Toki. However today you put a chip in it and if you don't take care I will come back and break it.”
His frustration at not being able to speak was evident.
The koroua then sat down and Mr Mason called for the vote which was received as 12 votes supporting the resolution to remove Mr Pryor and nine votes in opposition.
After the vote, Mr Mason called a recess to the meeting and that was when Mrs O’Brien and Nga Maihi left the meeting.
And I couldn’t help but feel for them.
Later when the meeting reconvened Mr Mason let several other members in the public gallery stand and have their say including one koroua who stood to protect Mr Ngaropo from a letter sent on behalf of Tuwharetoa ki Kawerau from individuals that called on the runanga to reprimand the Te Tawera representative for his recent stance in the newspaper.
However Nga Maihi went away, knowing they had followed process and done all the right things, but did not get their chance to speak.
So it was no real surprise when Sir Hirini Mead got up to give his Te Whakaruruhau report. He said that his job was to advise the board and the chief executive.
He then said he had gone outside to see Nga Maihi, who had been gathered in the carpark.
“And it is the first time in my memory that a hapu has threatened to pull away from the Runanga… And I must say that we must be very careful about how we treat ourselves. Part of the threat was if they pull out they want their share of the settlement and the answer to that is that if you pull out then go but you will go with nothing.”
Then later still, when the board were asked to vote on whether to instil Mr Quinn as a director of NAGHL until the end of the year, Pahipoto representative Tuwhakairiora (Conn) O’Brien asked him about his role at Tuwharetoa ki Kawerau.
Mr Quinn replied that he was the chief executive of Tuwharetoa ki Kawerau.
Mr O’Brien asked whether that was a conflict of interest however Mr Quinn replied that he had enough sense to avoid being part of discussions when there was going to be a conflict of interest.
Now this has bearing on the whole Nga Maihi situation. Mr Pryor was not removed because he had done anything wrong but because he was the chairman of Ngati Rangitihi, an iwi opposing Ngati Awa’s claim in Matāta.
As far as I know it Tuwharetoa ki Kawerau also dispute Ngati Awa’s claim in Kawerau and perhaps that is why we do not have any interest in the geothermal area even though Putauaki is our cultural mountain.
Now, today is another day and people have had some time to digest what has happened but I ask that when you read this you take the time out to really think about it. The threat that Nga Maihi may pull out of the collective is concerning and has wide implications.
Most at the Runanga seem to think that Mr Mason will go out to Tuteao and make amends but I am concerned about affects that this situation will have on us as an iwi.
I am proud Ngati Awa and so I hope Mr Mason will be able to smooth the waters and convince Nga Maihi to stay part of the collective but the issue is bigger than that.
Now is the time for our leaders to step up because games are being played where there are no rules and the stakes are way too high.
Meanwhile, Mr Ngaropo has raised his displeasure about the existence of this blog at several meetings including yesterday’s board meeting. I haven’t been able to respond to Mr Ngaropo in these meetings however if you agree with him then please let me know by leaving a comment. But if you don’t agree with him and you appreciate the job it takes to bring you this information then please take this post and share it wide.
Tu mai te toki, hara mai te toki, haumi e, hui e, tāiki e!