Nō hea mātou Our origins
Ngāi Tahu have always been tenacious, innovative, and resourceful — holding the knowledge that sustainable practices will ensure the health and wealth of the iwi (tribe), hapū (sub-tribes), and whānau (families). Being innately entrepreneurial, the tribe seized opportunities for trade, with pounamu (greenstone) being one of our earliest forms of currency. The tribe developed and grew the pounamu trade, controlling the alpine trails and supply of this precious resource. Great skill and determination were required to access the stone’s remote West Coast locations, and to extract, process, and transport it across the Southern Alps for trading. Food was another valuable trading commodity. The ability to hunt at times of plenty, preserve, and store food was crucial, and led to storage innovations. In the far south, Ngāi Tahu people developed and perfected the use of bull kelp bags (pōhā), a unique airtight technology to store tītī (mutton birds).
Ngāi Tahu had its first contact with European sealers and whalers from around 1795. By the 1830s, Ngāi Tahu had built up a thriving industry supplying whaling ships with provisions such as pigs, potatoes, and wheat. In 1835, whaling and sealing stations began to be established onshore under the authority of local Ngāi Tahu chiefs. The tribe quickly recognised the advantages of new technology, embracing the whalers’ boats, which allowed for safer fishing over greater distances, and the ability to handle larger catches. The boats also opened up the opportunity for doing business offshore. In the mid-19th century, the trade of harakeke (flax) to Australia was established. Harakeke was considered to be the finest and strongest rope available at the time.
Fast forward around 100 years to the 1940s, when a number of successful whānau enterprises were providing employment opportunities for Ngāi Tahu people. In 1946 Raniera Ellison, an Ōtākou Peninsula farmer, went on to build a hugely successful commercial fishing company. At the height of its success, Ōtākou Fisheries operated along much of the Southern coastline with close to 50 vessels, five factories, and a burgeoning local and international market.
At an iwi level, a reconstituted Ngāi Tahu Māori Trust Board was looking after the wider interests of the tribe. The Ngāi Tahu Māori Trust Board maintained a growth policy of reinvesting two-thirds of their income. It also had a tightly-focused distribution policy aimed at supporting tribal members through education grants and scholarships. Always on the lookout to grow the pūtea (fund), the Board made successful property investments, and this legacy continues through Ngāi Tahu Property.
Post-settlement the policy of reinvestment has remained in place, and accordingly, the asset base has continued to grow. When Ngāi Tahu settled Te Kerēme — the Ngāi Tahu Claim —in 1998, the tribe received an apology from the Crown, and $170 million. Ngāi Tahu Holdings is now worth more than $1 billion. It holds investments in property, farming, seafood, and tourism, as well as direct investment in a range of businesses, and indirect investment through private equity funds and international equities. Every year we distribute a return to Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu to support the ongoing work of helping Ngāi Tahu people realise their aspirations now and in the future.
— Mō tātou, ā, mō kā uri a muri ake nei - for us, and our children after us —