Minister Meka Whaitiri Pays Special Visit To Ngāi Takoto Iwi

Oct. 14, 2022, 1:23 p.m.

Minister Meka Whaitiri spent her morning yesterday on a hīkoi led by Ngāi Takoto and paid a special visit to the iwi in hope of learning more about what drives the different business arms relevant to her portfolio. She is currently Minister of Customs, Minister for Veterans, Minister for Food Safety, Associate Minister of Agriculture (Animal Welfare) and Associate Minister of Statistics.

Whaitiri and her support crew were called onto Ngāpae Holiday Park by Missy Edwards, which was followed by karakia from Bishop Kaio Karipa (Chairman of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Takoto) and mihi whakatau led by Wiremu Mātenga.

The rōpū shared their whakapapa and described how they had travelled to Te Taitokerau for this special visit from predominantly the Bay of Plenty and Waikato regions. Many ties that were detailed, weaved bloodlines into a pōwhiri that blessed the day ahead. 

The schedule was tight and the taiao dictated the next move with rising tides scurrying everyone along. A large group of vehicles navigated their way up to Karaka to observe the dune and wetland health before moving to Lake Ngātu where the environmental kaitiaki business arm, Taiao, have spent 20 years restoring the dune lake.

"We have worked really hard to restore the quality of the water here and of the surrounding whenua. We stopped boats from using this lake because at one point it had algae bloom from the boats stirring up the bottom constantly. We installed bollards and banned boats. The Taiao team have planted over 8,000 native trees here and you feel, see and smell the difference. We are restoring the mana and the mauri of our taonga," said Kaio Hooper (Environmental Manager of Ngāi Takoto).

The next destination was reached via Sandhills Road. Rākau Ora Orchards had its first pōhutukawa planted by Ngāi Takoto kuia, Aggie Smith, in 2019 to bless the new development. The name given to the pōhutukawa was Rākau Ora in representation of 'the tree of life' and so followed the name of the iwi's very first avocado orchard. 

Rangitane Marsden was CEO of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Takoto at that time of the planting and told the Northland Age that;

"The orchard is a means to achieve our aspiration of using our Treaty settlement assets to build a strong economic base for our people. It will enable greater productive use of the iwi's land and create new employment opportunities. This is a platform to begin the realisation of our vision, 'If we live as we ought, we shall know things as they are, and if we see things as they are, we shall live as we ought.' It's a tribute to our kaumātua and kuia who paved the way to settlement," said Marsden.

Since then, Claire Tamati (orchard manager), along with the directors, have grown the business from four employees to 54. Tamati has achieved her first successful and very bountiful harvest this year. She has led a peanut trial, a successful carrot and potatoes plant-out and there’s coffee to come.

Director Murray Jamieson described their logic behind their choice in vegetables to trial and shared their findings so far;

"When the peanuts are harvested, their root systems and nutrients left in the soil, which is quite sandy as a coastal property otherwise, will nourish the soil for the next crops. We are already benefiting from an all-year-round planting season because this is working quite effectively with the potatoes. The potatoes are still in the local supermarket during a time where they'd usually be out of season. The sand also, somewhat polishes the potatoes and carrots when they're pulled up and out through the soil with sand in it," said Jamieson.

Craig Wells (CEO, Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Takoto) spoke about the aspirations to provide the people of Ngāi Takoto with healthy, fresh and wholesome kai direct from the farm. 

"It costs 80 cents per litre of milk directly off our iwi farm, called Te Make. Then you go to Pak'n'Save and it costs over four dollars. If we can provide our people with meat, milk and vegetables then we will be happy. Affordable kai produced on our own whenua is our aim," detailed Wells.

Ngāi Takoto have already distributed kai packs to whānau during the pandemic which focussed on breaking down barriers toward food accessibility and affordability, so the iwi know it can be done. Whaitiri said that she would support this kaupapa wholeheartedly if the iwi put thought toward a potential processing plant on this whenua. She was impressed with the growth, the research and the physical labour put into this venture.

The visit was an impressive day of manaakitanga, whanaungatanga, learning and growth. A great feat for the small pioke to be able to showcase their hard work over many years. 

To have time dedicated by Whaitiri and her team specifically to Ngāi Takoto was a moment shared by many key people and as a result, te waka o Kurahaupo was paddled strongly forward along the wake of unity and progress.

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