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Measuring the Māori economy

Published: 23 May 2019

Estimates vary on the size of the Māori economy, but most agree that the contribution is vast – and rising quickly. Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment figures released in 2018 estimate Māori enterprise is worth nearly $40 billion, and growing faster than the overall economy.

According to the TDB Iwi Investment Report released in February, the total assets that post-settlement entities control now sits at around $9 billion. Meanwhile, Chapman Tripp’s 2017 Te Ao Māori – Trends and Insights Report estimated the size of the Māori economy to be $50 billion, with 30 per cent of this held by Māori groups, such as land trusts and incorporations.

Read more about the Māori economy – and how Auckland Council is helping to foster Māori innovation – in the June edition of OurAuckland, available from 25 May. 

Associate Professor in Māori Business Development at The University of Auckland Manuka Henare says one common misconception is for people to look at the Māori economy and think of iwi (tribes). “The real wealth is in households and people working in the market place,” Henare says. “That’s the microbusinesses, household businesses, wages and salary earners – that’s greater than the tribal assets.”

Because of this, Henare says $9 billion in assets is a conservative estimate, as we don’t really know the wealth creation within the Māori economy with entrepreneurs and small businesses.

He says one way Māori contribution to the economy could be better measured is by looking at the kinship systems that Māori, Pacific Island and Asian communities often operate in.

“In Auckland, 50 to 60 per cent of young people all belong to Māori, Pacific and Asian cultural groupings. What we need to be doing is coming up with more policies and ways to help families start businesses,” Henare says.

The government is looking at ways to measure health and wellbeing alongside traditional economic indicators like GDP. This is something Māori and Chinese communities already do, he says. ”Auckland can be the take-off area for wellbeing because of its cultural strength.”

Auckland Council has been working with Ngāti Whātua iwi in Ōrākei to advance the aspirations of its people through a range of initiatives, including major tourism projects.

The Ōrākei area holds strong cultural and spiritual significance for Auckland, as it includes the Ngāti Whātua iwi's land, marae, church and urupā (burial ground). To help educate people on this, it launched an augmented reality smartphone app called Auckland Virtual Tours, which teaches visitors about the significance of Ngāti Whātua’s ancestral land at Takaparawhau / Bastion Point, the hapū’s connection to Auckland and elements of the natural environment, such as the volcanoes surrounding it. The app is available in English, te reo Māori, and Mandarin.

The hapū has also opened a tourism hub and coffee bar at Takaparawhau. It is the departure point for guided tours, as well as a place where iwi artists can display and sell authentic pieces.