pitopito korero

Photo credit: Austin Distel Vwsuh / unsplash.com

Whāriki Kāhu August 24, 2021

Here is a quote from a book I am reading, the autobiography of former Member of Parliament and famed Māori activist Donna Awatere Huata (Ngāti Whakaue, Ngāti Porou), where she comments on the policy of the Department of Māori Affairs in the 1950s and 1960s:

“The purpose of the Department (although it wasn’t stated explicitly) was to encourage Māori into the cities as a source of cheap labour to develop the country’s secondary industries. It is a myth that Māori were drawn into town by the lure of bright lights. It was government policy to resettle them there.”

Around six decades later, I find myself in a room full of suits. Over 100 Māori business owners and corporate professionals are gathered together at Semenoff Stadium in Whangārei, learning how to better utilise social media marketing. I guess we weren’t just good at laborious tasks.

“The net worth of the Māori economy is around $68 billion and it’s great to have people in Tai Tokerau being a part of that,” says MP for Te Tai Tokerau and deputy leader of the Labour Party Kelvin Davis (Ngāti Manu), as we stand outside in the stands.

The people gathered here have been brought together by Māori business network Whāriki and social media giant Facebook. They represent a mere fraction of the Māori economy. While the term “Māori economy” may be new, the concept is not.

Something else Huata speaks about early on in her book is how Māori were already established traders with international economic relations.

Huata talks about how at the time of the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, Tainui had dozens of flour mills worth over £500 each and 1000 carrier canoes exporting the product to Auckland: “Far from being a passive, stay-at-home people, Māori were enterprising, energetic, and keen to travel. My mother’s family brought back an American from San Francisco, a trader.”

Despite years of oppressive legislation aimed at stripping Māori of our language, culture, resources, and taonga, we continue to pursue trade opportunities both domestically and abroad. Something that has assisted with the rise of small Māori businesses is the continued proliferation of social media platforms and marketing opportunities within these.

“What we’re trying to tell people is, yes there is a marketing side, there’s a story-telling side [to social media marketing] but there’s also a lot of valuable commercial functionality,” says chair of Whāriki Heta Hudson (Ngāti Awa, Tūhoe, Whakatōhea, Ngāi Tai ki Torere).

“Today, people are going to be learning how to sell products directly through Instagram shops. A lot of these things avoid the costs associated with having to set up a website, tracking return on investment, etc.”

Traditionally, the biggest barrier for a small business to reach its full potential has been the initial investment required to cover overheads or to upscale. With the rise of the internet and social media, businesses can now have all the benefits of a storefront for free on social media platforms. Over three million of us here in Aotearoa use Facebook or Instagram every day and many small businesses are cashing in.

We’ve all seen it. From the small entrepreneurs in Facebook groups selling baking or hāngī packs through to mānuka products being served to us via display ads, Māori businesses are benefiting from the rise of social media.

With the ongoing diversification of the Māori economy and new investment in areas such as geothermal energy and the digital sector, support from Government policy, continued redress, greater authority and self-autonomy, and other indigenous business networks emerging on the global radar, the Māori economy seems likely to continue to prosper in a time of economic uncertainty.