Massey workshop explores the potential of customary land

Dr Jason Mika presents at a workshop exploring how indigenous groups can build businesses using customary land.

Customary land is commonly perceived as a barrier to development in the Pacific and elsewhere, but a workshop held this week at the Manawatū campus revealed this is not always the case. In fact, many Māori and Pacific communities are using their customary land to promote the development of their wider communities.

The workshop brought together researchers from the Massey Business School, the College of Sciences and College of Humanities and Social Sciences, along with community stakeholders. Māori and Pacific enterprises shared their experiences and what they believed were the factors for success for indigenous businesses. A collective discussion explored ways to measure sustainable business development.

“Uniting the panellists was a concern for promoting businesses that contribute to the sociocultural and economic wellbeing of the wider community, while also showing respect for the environment,” says Dr Jason Mika, co-director  of Te Au Rangahau, Massey’s Māori Business and Leadership Research Centre.

Dr Jason Mika, Suliasi Vunibola, Dr Litea Meo-Sewabu, Associate Professor Nick Roskruge, Profesor Regina Scheyvens, Graeme Everton, Dr Garth Harmsworth, Dr Farah Palmer.

'The land has eyes and teeth'

Professor Regina Scheyvens, Dr Litea Meo-Sewabu and doctoral candidate Suliasi Vunibola shared insights from their Marsden-funded research into sustainable land-based entrepreneurship in the Pacific, titled, The land has eyes and teeth. Upon hearing the name of this project, one Pacific elder attendee remarked: "The land also has a spirit and heart.”

Associate Professor Nick Roskruge put it this way: “For Māori who are close to the whenua (land), it's about aspiring to rauwaru ('one-hundred scrapings'), where food is so abundant that we can afford to waste the scrapings of our kūmara (sweet potatoes) and rīwai (potatoes). We're not there yet, but we're working on restoring that level of involvement in food production and commercialisation in a sustainable way.”

Dr Litea Meo-Sewabu and Mr Vunibola shared stories of indigenous Fijian and Samoan enterprises – both small and large – that are finding ways to generate wealth and income from land-based enterprises, including a mudpool tourism business, beach-side tourist fale and a youth crop-growing project. Each sets aside some of their income for community purposes, education and the social needs of their communities.

Local entrepreneur Graeme Everton spoke about his iwi’s efforts to develop customary Māori land blocks in the Te Reu Reu valley by building an entrepreneurial ecosystem to support land owners to pursue land-based businesses. Dr Garth Harmsworth reminded attendees of the history of Māori land, moving from 100 per cent of New Zealand being customary land in the early 1800s, to the present where only 5 per cent remains in Māori customary ownership.

“How we develop this land when so many of our people are living away from their customary lands is a major challenge,” Dr Mika says. “There are tensions between iwi authorities, Māori land trusts and Māori entrepreneurs – getting them working together is one way to address the problem.”

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