Owners' Aspirations Regarding the Utilisation of Māori Land

Part Two: Aspirations

This part sets out the feed-back from the hui in relation to aspirations regarding Māori land, firstly looking at the key principles of retention and utilisation; and secondly looking at more specific aspirations grouped by the influences that have shaped them. When participants were asked about aspirations, a common response was to suggest that barriers to utilisation be removed. Those responses are covered in Part Three: Barriers.

1. First Principles: Retention and Utilisation

Across the hui, irrespective of the land grouping, a uniform viewpoint expressed by owners was that land should be retained but also utilised. Whereas commentators often see these aspirations as distinct and separate – and even that they create tension within regulatory environments – it was evident that those who participated at the hui did not distinguish between the two objectives and instead saw them as complementary and linked.

a. To Retain the Land and Maintain and Promote Cultural Connections

The key view expressed by everyone at the hui was the importance of land retention. This importance derived from the fact the land had been handed down from tipuna and as such it formed a part of a person’s identity. As noted by an attendee at the Rotorua ME<50 meeting:

…we want to hold our tipuna’s land. That is the main part I look at it. Those lands were given to me by my grandmother and I would not like to just hand it on. It is not like buying and selling house estates or whatever. To a Māori, that land is you. That is you.

The link of retaining lands with maintaining a cultural identity was often made as in the following comment by a Gisborne ME<50 attendee:

I think that it’s something my mother always says, she says it’s actually not about the amount of land that you have, it’s the connection to it, and I guess whether it’s naive for me or whatever, but I keep looking at that word aspirations for the land and I guess I always want it to be there as a kind of an anchor that my kids can connect…

The interdependent link between whenua, whakapapa and tūrangawaewae was often alluded to 8 with the land standing as a physical marker that enabled you to learn about identity. One person at the Whanganui NME>50 meeting described that getting involved with the family’s land blocks meant finding out more about their own whakapapa: “So, you know, you’re really learning about who you are, that’s a good experience…”

Within this cultural context, the characteristics of land which might be taken into account if it was being valued from a market perspective (e.g. size, location, soil) do not even rate as a consideration.

…it mightn’t be big land or any [particular] land …even if it might be only a toenail, it lets you know where were you were living in that hapū or whatever. It gives you some sense of identity. And it does. I know it has for me… 9

With the retention of the land came ongoing cultural responsibilities. A number of those attending the hui indicated that their aspirations for the land were fundamentally connected to their role as kaitiaki: “…the values of tāonga tuku iho are the values of kaitiakitanga, manaakitanga and those are the aspirations to me …then we build off those aspirations.” 10

b. Utilisation as a Cultural Responsibility

The role of kaitiaki was explained as not being protection of the land by keeping it in the state in which it was received. Instead, aside from protection, one of the duties placed on owners was to improve the land in some way. At the Gisborne NME<5 meeting one person spoke of the responsibility of passing on the land in a better state than how you received it:

…my inspiration is to say try and leave this whenua …in a better state than we received it. To me, this is the aspirations that I would love to have. Something that we got from our grandmother. I’d like to say, well granny, it’s still in a beautiful place, even though you’ve passed on…

The duty to improve the land was not only to fulfil an obligation to those who had gone before, but also to those who were yet to come. Retaining and/or utilising the lands for the benefit of descendants was an issue brought up at the Rotorua ME<50 hui. Furthermore, an attendee at the Gisborne ME<50 meeting spoke of the importance of ensuring for his children: “…that my grandchildren’s legacy is going to be there for them in years time.” Another attendee at that hui noted that it was important to grow the desire in their children to be involved in the land and its use, so that the future would be a “better time for them…”

These comments on duties from the past and to the future also go to the heart of explaining the dual imperative that exists between retention and utilisation.

c. The Personal Domain of Utilisation

At several hui, attendees indicated that Māori owners wanted to increase or retain their individual access to their lands. This access ranged from wanting to live and/or work on the land themselves, to being able to go on to the land in relation to hunting, fishing and attending to wāhi tapu.

One attendee at the Whanganui ME1500+ hui commented that there were…:

…people wanting to hop back on their land and do their own thing. Some of them were at the stage where they don’t want this great big huge invested bla bla bla, they just want to live on it ‘cos they can’t live in the cities probably. They want to go home, simple as that.

The issue of owners wanting to move back onto their land and develop it themselves was also brought up during the Whanganui NME>50 meeting:

…it’s plain as day for lots of our people, they just want to move back onto their land and develop the land, whether that be gardens or build a house or whichever, there’s just simplest way of living…

One attendee spoke of her auntie who wanted to go back and live on her land “and just build a house and survive and plant a garden.” 11 It was further noted by another speaker “…we all want to get on and develop and be healthy and live on my nanny’s land”. 12 During the Rotorua ME<50 hui staff from the Māori Trustee pointed out that “…we go to every landowners meeting and that’s an item that always comes up, ‘I want to build a house on my land’”.

Land was already being used for whānau housing in some areas. At the Whanganui ME1500+ hui it was noted that a further whānau housing project was being considered.

The access to lands for hunting and fishing was raised in relation to the future use of Taupō ME1500+ lands. At the Whanganui ME1500+ and NME<5 hui there was a considerable amount of feedback regarding hapū members wanting access to lands for hunting.

d. Commercial Utilisation

Having identified the cultural link between retention and utilisation and understood the expectation held by owners of personal utilisation of their land, there was also discussion at the hui in relation to commercial land use and where this stood in relation to cultural imperatives. The discussion showed recognition by the owners that whilst all land utilisation was inherently cultural, it proceeds within the realms of economics.

Owners noted that being kaitiaki meant being good caretakers of the land.13 To owners, the use of the land commercially did not engender or require a changed mindset as it was part of the continuum of cultural imperatives. As kaitiaki, the responsibility of receiving the tāonga of land was to utilise and improve it for coming generations. Commercial use was simply a mechanism to achieve that cultural imperative. As one speaker at the Gisborne ME<50 noted, the motivation for many Māori land owners to carry on farming was that they retained their connection with the land through this type of utilisation.

When addressing the issue of commercially utilising land, many speakers at the various hui spoke of aspiring to utilise their lands in a way that resulted in the best income or economic return. 14 An attendee from the Gisborne ME<50 hui noted: “…it’s how can the land be maximised with the most expedient use of our efforts and time, and economic, so it’s not costing the earth and more money isn’t going out when it should be going in…” One of the attendees at the Taupō ME1500+ meeting indicated that they were looking for the best possible development of their properties within the wider context of what was best for their ongoing economic development. An additional aspect of gaining good financial returns was being able to take advantage of investment opportunities and being able to invest in education. 15 At the Rotorua ME<50 hui, one speaker noted that the use of Māori land to provide employment had always been a key driver for Māori. This had occurred in relation to some Māori land in the past and was an ongoing aspiration.

Other attendees also commented on the importance of working and managing the land as a viable business and gaining better returns but this was often mentioned alongside being a kaitiaki and maintaining the cultural connection. This combination of making money and cultural connection was commented on as follows by a speaker at the Gisborne ME<50 hui:

…I don’t want it to be a it’s either money-making or it’s either cultural. I want it to be a big bang of both and that both of those, the cultural and the money thing, are both as equally as important and useful to Māori and not just for today, like forever…

It was acknowledged that the commercial use of land inevitably raised the possibility of conflict with the maintenance of some types of cultural connection with land and that in some situations trade-offs would have to occur. The aspiration to retain or rebuild the cultural associations with the land was clearer and simpler when the land was covered in bush but less clear when there was a commercial venture such as a stud merino farm located on the land. 16

The ideal expressed by those attending the hui was to achieve a balance between managing the land as a viable business but still maintaining the owners’ cultural connection. This feeling was expressed by the following attendee at the Gisborne ME<50 hui:

At the end of the day, I think all of us sitting here want us to work with our land and manage it so we are actually running it as a viable business but still holding on to the heart, the cultural connect…

One example of this balance was given where the owners of lands that were now located in a large exotic forestry trust, nevertheless placed as a high priority on the protection of tāonga such as the remaining native virgin bush.17


8 Whanganui ME1500+

9 Whanganui NME>50

10 Rotorua ME<50

11 Whanganui NME>50

12 Whanganui NME>50

13 Gisborne ME<50

14 Taupō ME1500+, Rotorua ME<50, Whanganui ME1500+, Gisborne ME<50

15 Taupō ME1500+, Whanganui ME1500+

16 Whanganui ME1500+

17 Whanganui ME1500+

2. Specific Aspirations and the Influences That Shaped Them

Aside from recording broad aspirations in relation to their land that were associated with core values, the owners who attended hui also generated a long list of specific aspirations that grew from the circumstances they were dealing with in relation to their land.

These aspirations are grouped under the influences that shaped them (to the extent they have been shaped at all). In a number of cases the specific aspirations can be seen as largely being shaped by and generated from the way the land is currently being utilised. Nevertheless, many owners were thinking beyond barriers and status quo to consider what might they do which was new and innovative in the use of the land to maximise its potential and increase its return for the benefit of interest holders.

a. Situations in which aspirations have not been formed

That said, a fair proportion of owners indicated that they were only beginning to think about their land and its utilisation for the first time and were only on the first steps of beginning to form any aspirations at all.

Typically these owners have little knowledge of the land in which they hold interests and the land is of little significant relevance to them. Primary reasons for these circumstances include living away or having been born away from the land and having little to do with it or other owners.

During several of the hui, many examples were given of persons not realising they were owners of land until being informed by a relative, learning of it following the passing away of a close relation or having discovered it as a result of some research. In these cases, not surprisingly, the owners had not yet formed any aspirations towards the land as they were still getting used to the idea of being owners/shareholders.

Another sentiment often expressed was in relation to absentee owners, especially those whose families had been away from the land for several generations. In many cases, there may not even be an awareness that land was held, but even if there was, location away from the land meant that it played little role in their lives and was given little thought.

Even where people lived in the vicinity of their land, and were aware that they had some form of landholding, aspirations towards the use of land may not have been given much thought. This situation arises where past use of the land – for example where it has been leased out to Pakeha or farmed by incorporations – has effectively taken the land out of the everyday consciousness of the owner to the point that they have become disassociated from the land.

As one speaker at the Rotorua ME<50 meeting noted, even in cases where the land might be in passive use, there may be little thought given to wider aspirations.

…we are just walking around, you can’t tell them what to do. If they want to go and hunt, they will go hunt. If they want to kill possums, they will kill possums. But there is no vision for beyond, you know, above and beyond being a beneficiary of the land…

This speaker stressed the importance of overcoming this ‘mindset’ so that the owners themselves became the decision makers in relation to the land.

Sometimes the ‘aspiration’ is for no development. A circumstance was described by a representative from the Māori Trustee’s Office, who was also on four major incorporations and who spoke at the Gisborne ME<50 meeting in relation to the attitude of some owners towards the land. He described a situation where a local Pakeha farmer had put up a $40,000 development programme. Out of the 78 owners connected to the block only six turned up and they didn’t want the development programme. Their reasons for that were said to be as follows:

…Culturally, they wanted to see their blackberry grow ten feet high and the fences fall over, so what they wanted to do was have that connection to their land. Now, for me … that goes against, I guess, of what I understand to be a kaitiaki -guardian of that land.

In a number of the hui, when asked about land aspirations, respondents focused on the immediate problems they were facing that were preventing them from using their land or were curtailing their activities. In these situations, it became apparent that the removal of the barriers that existed had become the primary aspiration for the land with owners not being able to think past the obstructions they were currently facing. Barriers that were identified included the difficulty in securing finance, the ongoing issues surrounding land rates, the desire to have free access to the land and issues associated with leasing the land.

b. Aspirations shaped by land utilisation status quo

For many owners, the way that land was currently being utilised, especially in relation to farming or forestry, naturally tends to shape their aspirations. These aspirations either take the form of expansion of the activity or of other ways to improve profitability.


At the Gisborne ME<50 it was indicated that although ideas for diversification were being considered, most Māori land owners wanted farming to remain the backbone as this was something which was understood. The situation of these owners’ perspectives was explained as follows: “… if we’re still farming then we’re still doing something with the land, that’s how our people see it, and the trustees are very much that way inclined.”

Another speaker at Gisborne ME<50 indicated that in relation to one trust the owners preferred to be involved in farming as that was what they knew and it also retained their connection with the land. In addition to the income generated from farming, a further advantage was indicated to be the use of the farms to provide meat for occasions such as tangihanga. 18


Although forestry does not have as long a history as farming in the utilisation of Māori land, in many areas it has been in place for many decades and these owners were used to equating development with forestry.

The use of Māori land for forestry was discussed by attendees in relation to large land blocks at both the Taupō ME1500+ and the Whanganui ME1500+ hui. Views were mixed. For some groups, forestry had not been the panacea that had been hoped for. In Taupō ME1500+ the expense associated with requirements to fence farmland was said to have been one of the factors that contributed to the decision to lease blocks to big forestry operators. There was some reluctance to do this as one speaker commented: “We didn’t want to forest because we can’t eat wood.” At the time the leases were signed up it was believed that forestry would be a more profitable use of the land than highly intensive farming such as growing carrots, corn or other horticultural produce. However, a speaker indicated that the income ultimately received when some of the trees were harvested in 2005 was only about 15% of the income anticipated. The view was also presented that it was the big operators that profited most from the use of this land “…because we were controlled under the stumpage in the hundred year lease.”

On the other hand, a representative of a trust within Whanganui ME1500+ indicated that they had been able to obtain considerable income in relation to one of their large forestry blocks and to some extent this was supporting other activities taking place within the trust. However, issues of concern were raised in relation to the forestry lease having recently been handed over to a company other than that which held the original lease.

Where land was already being used for forestry, Māori owners often considered extending over additional blocks. The utilisation of further Māori land for forestry was brought up at Gisborne ME<50. It was pointed out that forestry was a sensible option for class 6, 7 and 8 19 land blocks up the coast where it would be difficult to farm. Forestry was seen as providing a significant opportunity in relation to blocks of 1,500 ha and larger.

c. Aspirations to take Land Utilisation in New Directions

Despite many owners being preoccupied with barriers and issues that currently face them in the use of their land, there was evidence from the hui of thought being given towards the possibilities of what might be undertaken in the future. Much of this thinking was clearly preliminary in that there had been little further steps taken towards the achievement of such aspirations. Nevertheless, the identification of new kinds of land utilisation reflects the ongoing desire by owners to realise the maximum potential from their land.


Potential opportunities in relation to tourism were mentioned by speakers at a number of hui. 20 At the Whanganui ME1500+ hui possible options included building lodges along the river; taking tourists into the bush located on whenua rāhui lands by helicopter for hunting; and using the native forest land for adventure walks or even science projects.

The possibility of some of these schemes being run by the Māori owners was pointed out. At the Gisborne ME<50 hui, a speaker from one of the trusts spoke of the possibility of reverting some of the land back to nature to enable eco-tourism operations. The tourism potential of a two kilometre beach that could only be accessed through their farm was also noted with one option being to develop a little eco-type resort.

There was also the potential for a walkway. However, it was pointed out: “…we don’t want to commercialise it to the extent that we lose our own values.” It was also indicated that it was important to consider the effects of any development on the businesses of relations in the area. An attendee at the Gisborne NME<5 hui spoke of an island that could possibly be used for weddings and other events (although there were some potential difficulties associated with this). The possible use of a blowhole on the side of the island as one of the tourist attractions in the area was also noted.

Other uses

Several other possibilities were also mentioned:

  • Aviation: An issue raised at the Taupō ME1500+ meeting was the ownership of the space over the Māori land blocks and whether there was the potential for development in the area of aviation in relation to this.
  • Bee Keeping: Another idea put forward at the Taupō ME1500+ meeting was beekeeping. One of the beneficial aspects of bee-keeping was that natural areas with native trees such as mānuka could be used. Potential markets in China were mentioned. At the Whanganui ME1500+ meeting bee-keeping was also mentioned as one of the projects that could be encouraged with the use of money they had invested.
  • Carbon Emissions Schemes: The potential use of Māori land in relation to carbon emissions was considered a possible avenue worth investigating by attendees at several hui. 21

Reverting land to bush: One group within the Gisborne NME<5 land blocks was looking at reverting some of its land back to bush. It was pointed out that: “…People talk about bush in a different sort of way than we talk about it. Part of our 30 acre block, and hopefully we can talk our neighbours into doing the same thing – we want to revert it back to bush.”

  • Selective Native Logging: The selective logging within native forests was mentioned as a possibility at the Taupō ME1500+ hui. The possibility of extracting native timber from Māori land for regeneration purposes or in relation to native trees that fell over and were still usable was also raised at the Whanganui ME1500+ hui.
  • Cultural Tracks: The Taupō ME1500+ hui considered several options in relation to developing their lands. One of these was the revitalisation of the old tracks such as the ones that “our people walked back in the good old days when they cut across country to Ngāti Kahungunu, across to Ngāti Maniapoto”.
  • Other types of land utilisation: Other projects that were underway or in development stages included the development of cottage industries and a geothermal scheme. 22 A further large trust was indicated to be involved in a joint venture with Meridian Energy.23 Some multiply owned land was used by the owners for recreational purposes and houses were built on the land for this purpose.


18 Whanganui ME1500+

19 The Land Use Capability Survey Handbook (LUC) sets out 8 different land use classes depending on its suitability for use.

20 Taupō ME1500+, Whanganui ME1500+, Gisborne ME<50 and Gisborne NME<5

21 Taupō ME1500+, Whanganui ME1500+ and Gisborne ME<50

22 Rotorua ME<50

23 Whanganui ME1500+