Maori land, with a new view

Shining a light on the future of Maori-owned land.

Shining a light on the future of Maori-owned land.

University of Auckland researcher Dr Kiri Dell, of Ngati Porou, is starting a national conversation about unlocking the potential of Maori land aspirations.



Dr Kiri Dell of Ngati Porou says it is time to cast a fresh mind over the potential of whanau-owned Maori land. The University of Auckland researcher shares her thoughts with reporter Shaan Te Kani.

Kiri Dell is shining a light on the future of Maori-owned land.

In order to see this light, Kiri believes a change of perspective, and a shift from what Maori land has been entrenched in, is needed.

The University of Auckland post-doctoral research fellow will receive a PhD this month for her research into why Maori struggle to realise their whenua (land) aspirations.

Kiri’s research journey was a mammoth undertaking of interviews with Maori land trust experts, trustees, shareholders, policy makers, lawyers and land development specialists.

But the mahi has only just begun.

In recent months, Kiri has shared her findings with various agencies and groups, starting a national conversation on the issues surrounding, and suffocating, Maori land.

She’s been interviewed by Radio New Zealand, and has an opinion piece featured on The Spinoff news website.

Through these platforms, Kiri has talked about why Maori land is rife with conflict and challenges that impede land aspirations.

She has identified the causes, consequences and ways forward.

Throughout it all, Kiri speaks with passion about whenua Maori — after all, it is part of her own landscape.

“I am from Ruatoria and Whareponga. My hapu is Te Aitanga a Mate,” she says. “I was brought up in Invercargill, but my mother was adamant that we were brought up in the ways of home.”

This determined focus is also evident in Kiri’s work at the University of Auckland, where she teaches Maori land issues in the Faculty of Business and Economics.

She also teaches Maori economy and entrepreneurship, and her research interests include Maori land development, indigenous economic advancement and global opportunities for Maori.

From her latest research, one of the key findings was that egos, fear and anxiety were impeding the potential of Maori land.

“The most interesting part is how we’re behaving in these spaces,” says Kiri.

“Egos are detrimental. That’s definitely a thing that manifests in a lot of different ways.

“Fear of change and anxiety are holding us back.

“To move forward we need innovative thinking.

“How can we realise some of that? The first thing is awareness. That’s what my research is about. My aim is to shine a light on these issues and ask why are people behaving like this.

“Because one thing to remember is that all of these behaviours come from somewhere.

“The Crown is definitely a factor. Lost land. Whanau are disrupted and displaced.

“Trauma came up a lot in my research, and it is inherited trauma.

“People are still grieving, still feeling the mamae (pain) of what happened to their great-grandfather, or of how they lost their land.

“The way land trusts are set up goes against shared Maori cultural values and has aggravated these behaviours.

“From there, hypersensitivity has developed.”

The Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) website states that defining Maori land is “complex and technical and requires a legal definition”.

It goes on to explain how Maori freehold land came about.

The Crown set aside land for Maori from the Maori customary land that it purchased for the settlement of New Zealand.
Specific Maori individuals were granted Crown Grants for joint ownership of such land.

The Maori Land Court investigated ownership of Maori customary land that had not been alienated, and appointed (up to) 10 Maori individuals into joint ownership.

Ownership of the land was confirmed by the Maori Land Court and title was granted by the Crown.

The purpose of this activity was that the Crown wished to move from the Maori practice of joint customary ownership to the European practice of individual ownership.

The reason for this was to make land ownership more certain (from a settler perspective) and this provided confidence that prospective purchasers were dealing with the legal owners of the land.

“We have this Crown land system imposed on us, and the legislation stems from that,” says Kiri.

“My research looks at the language that is used in legislation and how problematic it has been.

“Being a ‘shareholder’ or a ‘beneficiary’, those words don’t reflect kaitiakitanga (guardianship/custodianship) and ukaipo (source of sustenance).

“Our Maori language is relational. It’s always about how we relate to whenua.

“When we talk in English and use business language, that stems from a transactional angle.

“When we have these discussions in English about whenua Maori, we in a way, start to distance ourselves from our Maori way of thinking.

“I analysed Government reports that were speaking about Maori land. It makes the land sound negative. They call it unproductive, marginalised, isolated and bad. It can be quite insular.”

In terms of a way forward, a mind-shift, innovative thinking and a change in legislation are the key areas, says Kiri.

“A fundamental shift of thinking is needed. What’s needed is a more Maori way of looking at Maori land ownership.
“There has been a lack of awareness, but now we are having the discussion because it’s been raised.”

Kiri is currently developing a survey to help land trusts tackle issues, and she is also talking with Government agencies.

Another aim is to implement workshops to resolve issues.
“There also needs to be a national conversation about what Maori land ownership should look like going into the future.

“I’m facilitating that conversation. That’s the role I see myself doing. I talk to policy-makers about my thinking.

“For a transformational change, we need to go back to the beginning and ask, ‘what were our original ways?’ and ‘how might that look in a Government economy’.

“We need that innovative, outside of the box thinking on ways of thinking about ownership.
“That may be possibly looking at models from other countries.
“There’s a lot of mahi to do on the ground.

“We need to empower whanau with something that matches the heart and the values of the people.

“There’s loads of changes and complexities that go on with Maori land. The easiest part of change is ourselves.

“We need to look at ourselves and truly recognise how we’re behaving; thus going forward with structural issues.”

  • Maori land covers 1.47 million hectares — 5.5 percent of New Zealand — and is represented by 27,308 titles and 2.7 million individual ownership interests. Over half is held and governed by whanau trusts, rather than at the iwi level.
  • <



Dr Kiri Dell of Ngati Porou says it is time to cast a fresh mind over the potential of whanau-owned Maori land. The University of Auckland researcher shares her thoughts with reporter Shaan Te Kani.

Kiri Dell is shining a light on the future of Maori-owned land.

In order to see this light, Kiri believes a change of perspective, and a shift from what Maori land has been entrenched in, is needed.

The University of Auckland post-doctoral research fellow will receive a PhD this month for her research into why Maori struggle to realise their whenua (land) aspirations.

Kiri’s research journey was a mammoth undertaking of interviews with Maori land trust experts, trustees, shareholders, policy makers, lawyers and land development specialists.

But the mahi has only just begun.

In recent months, Kiri has shared her findings with various agencies and groups, starting a national conversation on the issues surrounding, and suffocating, Maori land.

She’s been interviewed by Radio New Zealand, and has an opinion piece featured on The Spinoff news website.

Through these platforms, Kiri has talked about why Maori land is rife with conflict and challenges that impede land aspirations.

She has identified the causes, consequences and ways forward.

Throughout it all, Kiri speaks with passion about whenua Maori — after all, it is part of her own landscape.

“I am from Ruatoria and Whareponga. My hapu is Te Aitanga a Mate,” she says. “I was brought up in Invercargill, but my mother was adamant that we were brought up in the ways of home.”

This determined focus is also evident in Kiri’s work at the University of Auckland, where she teaches Maori land issues in the Faculty of Business and Economics.

She also teaches Maori economy and entrepreneurship, and her research interests include Maori land development, indigenous economic advancement and global opportunities for Maori.

From her latest research, one of the key findings was that egos, fear and anxiety were impeding the potential of Maori land.

“The most interesting part is how we’re behaving in these spaces,” says Kiri.

“Egos are detrimental. That’s definitely a thing that manifests in a lot of different ways.

“Fear of change and anxiety are holding us back.

“To move forward we need innovative thinking.

“How can we realise some of that? The first thing is awareness. That’s what my research is about. My aim is to shine a light on these issues and ask why are people behaving like this.

“Because one thing to remember is that all of these behaviours come from somewhere.

“The Crown is definitely a factor. Lost land. Whanau are disrupted and displaced.

“Trauma came up a lot in my research, and it is inherited trauma.

“People are still grieving, still feeling the mamae (pain) of what happened to their great-grandfather, or of how they lost their land.

“The way land trusts are set up goes against shared Maori cultural values and has aggravated these behaviours.

“From there, hypersensitivity has developed.”

The Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) website states that defining Maori land is “complex and technical and requires a legal definition”.

It goes on to explain how Maori freehold land came about.

The Crown set aside land for Maori from the Maori customary land that it purchased for the settlement of New Zealand.
Specific Maori individuals were granted Crown Grants for joint ownership of such land.

The Maori Land Court investigated ownership of Maori customary land that had not been alienated, and appointed (up to) 10 Maori individuals into joint ownership.

Ownership of the land was confirmed by the Maori Land Court and title was granted by the Crown.

The purpose of this activity was that the Crown wished to move from the Maori practice of joint customary ownership to the European practice of individual ownership.

The reason for this was to make land ownership more certain (from a settler perspective) and this provided confidence that prospective purchasers were dealing with the legal owners of the land.

“We have this Crown land system imposed on us, and the legislation stems from that,” says Kiri.

“My research looks at the language that is used in legislation and how problematic it has been.

“Being a ‘shareholder’ or a ‘beneficiary’, those words don’t reflect kaitiakitanga (guardianship/custodianship) and ukaipo (source of sustenance).

“Our Maori language is relational. It’s always about how we relate to whenua.

“When we talk in English and use business language, that stems from a transactional angle.

“When we have these discussions in English about whenua Maori, we in a way, start to distance ourselves from our Maori way of thinking.

“I analysed Government reports that were speaking about Maori land. It makes the land sound negative. They call it unproductive, marginalised, isolated and bad. It can be quite insular.”

In terms of a way forward, a mind-shift, innovative thinking and a change in legislation are the key areas, says Kiri.

“A fundamental shift of thinking is needed. What’s needed is a more Maori way of looking at Maori land ownership.
“There has been a lack of awareness, but now we are having the discussion because it’s been raised.”

Kiri is currently developing a survey to help land trusts tackle issues, and she is also talking with Government agencies.

Another aim is to implement workshops to resolve issues.
“There also needs to be a national conversation about what Maori land ownership should look like going into the future.

“I’m facilitating that conversation. That’s the role I see myself doing. I talk to policy-makers about my thinking.

“For a transformational change, we need to go back to the beginning and ask, ‘what were our original ways?’ and ‘how might that look in a Government economy’.

“We need that innovative, outside of the box thinking on ways of thinking about ownership.
“That may be possibly looking at models from other countries.
“There’s a lot of mahi to do on the ground.

“We need to empower whanau with something that matches the heart and the values of the people.

“There’s loads of changes and complexities that go on with Maori land. The easiest part of change is ourselves.

“We need to look at ourselves and truly recognise how we’re behaving; thus going forward with structural issues.”

  • Maori land covers 1.47 million hectares — 5.5 percent of New Zealand — and is represented by 27,308 titles and 2.7 million individual ownership interests. Over half is held and governed by whanau trusts, rather than at the iwi level.
  • <
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Jennifer Takuta-Moses, Waikaremoana - 4 months ago
Congratulations Dr Kiri Dell - what a powerful energy and model you bring for transformational change. Thank you for your research which will help all Maori.

James Allen, Whanganui - 4 months ago
Awesome, conversations need to be had. Good start.

Bernadette Jacobs, Auckland - 4 months ago
I just have too much to say. The hurt is deep and wide. I can traverse it and even though my living tupuna still cry, they are so helpful in their guidance of my (or anyone's) journey into the whenua and moana . . . Would love to see the changes this research brings. Nga mihi Kia koe te rangatira a Kiri.

Jerald Pattison, Dunedin - 4 months ago
Hi Kiri, how are you? Wow, who would have thought, a doctor! Well done.
My concern is that we Maori are given hundreds of millions, so why isn't that money going to Maori - not just the ones in poverty - to help us step into our first homes?
I've tried before to get help from my father's side but got a negative response. It's like once they got all this money, Kiri, they didn't want to part with it.
I've always thought that once we got this payout, things would change. They haven't.
It shouldn't be up to the government - this is where our people get it wrong, I think. The Crown has given us settlements, so why aren't we using them for our people? I've seen nothing go towards helping our culture, housing grants and alleviating poverty - only education grants, and even that can be like getting blood from a stone.

Kohine Rata, Central Hawke's Bay - 4 months ago
Kia ora Dr Kiri Dell, our whanau had a legal road line which was put in place in 1929 by our nan, so we would always have access to ancestral whenua. The whenua in front was sold, our whenua at the back is still ancestral. Unbeknown to us and without consultation, our road line changed to general land. We have no access now.

Kohine Rata, Central Hawke's Bay - 4 months ago
You could have fooled me. I lost my Nan's roadline through the Maori Land Court this day

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