Meet Taria Tahana

Kōkiri meets Taria Tahana (Te Arawa – Ngāti Pikiao, Ngāti Makino, Tapuika) the new Manager, Economic Wealth at Te Puni Kōkiri. Her role involves leading the work to support Te Puni Kōkiri priority area: strengthening economic wealth.

As Taria Tahana started her new role at Te Puni Kōkiri last month, she recalled her Dad, the late Arapeta Tahana, and his interpretation of Tā Apirana Ngata’s famous kōrero E Tipu e Rea.

Ko to ringa ki ngā rākau a te Pākehā, hei oranga mō tō tinana.

In your hands the tools of the Pākehā, as means to support and sustain you.

It was with this in mind, a young Taria, newly graduated from Waikato University with a Bachelor of Management Studies, actively sought to gain as much experience as possible in the Pākehā business world.

“Dad used to say, ‘go and get really good experience in a professional services firm and then come home to the iwi’. In a way I’ve kind of done that and now I feel that there’s quite a lot in my kete that I can bring to advance Māori economic development,” Taria says.

Nearly 25 years later, she’s clocked up experience in large and small companies in New Zealand and internationally. She’s run her own small business, and for the last year she has been General Manager of both Te Pumautanga o Te Arawa Trust and its chartiable subsidiary, Te Arawa Tangata, reporting to a board of 15 iwi representatives and participating in the Iwi Leaders Forum. She’s also a member of the Institute of Directors with a range of governance roles behind her.

Raised in Auckland, and educated at St Joseph’s Māori Girls College, Taria was awarded a Fletcher Challenge Scholarship to study at university. She used the opportunity to work the university holidays in a number of Fletcher subsidiaries and got a full-time job with the company on graduation. For five years she worked across a range of industries before taking up a role in Canada with multinational professional services firm Ernst and Young.

A chance meeting in Canada with then Māori Affairs Minister, the late Parekura Horomia set the agenda for the next stage of her career.

“They set up Hui Taumata around Māori economic development. So when I came back to New Zealand he put me onto the steering committee and that got me into what was happening in te ao Māori in terms of Māori economic development,” Taria explains.

“After that I started doing consulting projects with a Māori economic development focus.”

That has included being the project lead for the He Mauri Ohooho the Māori Economic Development Strategy for the wider Bay of Plenty region – Mai i ngā Kuri-a-Whārei ki Tihirau, Mai i Maketu ki Tongariro. “That strategy is essentially about creating jobs and increasing wealth for our people: Mauri Oho, Mauri Mahi, Mauri Ora. We need economic models that reflect a Māori world view and that improve our income levels and prosperity as a people.”

Taria reckons the locally developed strategy is a couple of years ahead of other regions, and in her new role at Te Puni Kōkiri she’s keen to support other regions to develop their own plans.

So how would the Māori economy look in 2040 — 200 years since the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi — if Taria’s ambitions are fulfilled.

“The big thing that I would like to see is job creation."

“I would like our assets to be better matched up to employment so that our rangatahi don’t have to go to Aussie, they have those opportunities here."

“We will have big Māori firms that are significant export players. We will have diversified our economic base away from commodity products and we will be seen as players on the global stage."

“There will be Māori models, for example, in employment and the way that we employ our people and engage in our own practices."

“Our iwi structures will be much stronger with better integration and alignment between our commercial and other entities."

“The Māori economy will be commercially viable with a social conscience that is based on a Māori world view. Shareholders in a trust won’t be thinking about ‘what’s my divvy and my return’ you’ll be thinking ‘how can this trust grow and evolve to create greater opportunties for our tamariki and mokopuna that enhance their position in the world as iwi, hapū and whānau.”