Show me the money: how our Treaty settlements aren’t helping

In my community, I know that many of our Māori whānau are struggling. In my street, many of my neighbours are struggling.

Many of my neighbours have over crowded homes. Most often in our street a son or a daughter and their tamariki get evicted from their current house and end up coming to live with their parents and their siblings. Not many people in our street own their own home. Our landlords are absentees who infrequently come around in their european cars. In the main they are retired men fooled by a good sob story and a short skirt into letting the young mum with two wide eyed children move into their investment, only to find a large intimidating partner and the a variety of others living there when they do an inspection.

Our local tinny house is frequented by young people who then meet even younger people on their street with their score, by men and women with hopeless eyes and heavy shoulders and by rich Pākehā who turn up in their parents’ cars and send one person in whilst the rest giggle nervously. The two or three local alcoholics saunter slowly down the street each morning and evening, often cheery in the morning, enraged late in the evening.

I’m doing study so I am often home during the day. Whilst the majority of the tamariki stream past each morning on the way to school, the cohort of school age children who run riot on our streets on their bikes long into the evening are often there during the school day. If they go to school, it is because the school picks them up. Those tamariki have one aim in life: to keep out of their parents’ way. There is little interest in early childhood care; it costs money and you have to take your children yourself.

When the bread van and the soup kitchen van come on Wednesday evenings, they stop at the same places and a small crowd gathers round for a chat and a kai. For some it’s more cheap carbs piled on top of other cheap carbs; for others it is their first meal of the day.

When the sun is shining in the weekends, my neighbours are out mowing the lawns. I have the messiest lawn in the street by a long shot. People wave and call out a ‘kia ora’ while our kids play together up and down the street. We all grumble darkly together about the odd car driving too fast down our street. Often one of us will pop around to a neighbours’ house with extra vegetables from the garden, with a bag of pipi or titiko, with left over seedlings. No big deal, hand it over, shrug the shoulders when they complain it’s too much and they can’t possibly accept it, and go home having exchanged 10 words.

This is my community. These are my neighbours. For any of you who are Māori or Pasifika, there’ll be things in there that you recognise from your community.

When I sit and look at my street – the same now as it was when we moved in 8 years ago – I wonder what has been the benefit of all of these Treaty settlements to us?

My iwi, Ngāti Ranginui, received just over $30 million once you add money and land together. Whilst Ngaiterangi is also one of my iwi, I am not as aware of the value of the settlement, though I have a feeling it is similar in size. Ngāti Pukenga was a bit smaller, but settled as well. Waitaha are working through the process of settlement now.

In Ngāt Ranginui, we have dealt with our settlement through the Ranginui Settlement Trust. As our settlement was hapu-centric, their role is to move the resources from the overall settlement onto hapu once they have put appropriate structures in place to receive it. In my hapu, that structure is the Pirirakau Settlement Trust. Pirirakau end up with about $8-9 million in land and money.

Now there are dramas, legal fees, politics, cunning plans, not so cunning plans, and foolish mismanagement in the development of these structures. There also good people, great ideas, hopeful visions and good intent in them as well. I expect all of that having been on committees for a long time now. But I still have a question as I look out on my street: what good is the Treaty settlement doing for my neighbours.

The answer: none.

Some of the aforementioned money is starting to flow. There are meeting fees for those who sit on boards and trusts; there are relationships with more monied iwi, particularly Tainui, at which some few get wined and dined; and there are the beginnings of plans to invest some of that resource in the ‘market’ to make more money. Maybe less than 100 people in all of that. That might even be an overstatement. I believe most of our marae in Tauranga Moana will end up with some small slice of the pie which will be outstanding for the maintenance and improvement of those facilities.

None of my iwi’s settlement money to date is flowing into anything that will change the poverty that my neighbours live in. Nothing for improved housing or housing tenure. Nothing to provide healthier and more regular food to whānau. Nothing to ensure our tamariki are in education. Nothing to fight the scourge of drugs and alcohol. Nothing where my neighbours will say, that Treaty settlement transformed our lives. Nothing.

Let’s be fair: it is early days. But I can be confident in saying that I have not heard, seen or been part of any plans in relation to our Treaty settlement that will address any of the above issues.

So I ask, what was the point? I believe that our marae, our hapu and our iwi exist with at least some vague vision of being part of our whānau living healthier, wealthier, more educated and more fulfilled lives. I am not sure that a link has been made between this vague vision and the reality of receiving over $30 million. I am concerned that in the way we operate and the structures we have established, that our iwi and our hapu give the impression that we believe the social contract with our people remains the government’s responsibility, achieved through funding our various iwi and hapu providers. I am concerned that our settlement has done nothing to wrestle us away from a dependence mindset. I am very concerned.

And if I am correct, this is all far more tragic than anything I see in my street.