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Twelve Questions: Tamati Kruger
16 July 2015

Tamati Kruger was chief negotiator of Tuhoe's ground-breaking Treaty settlement with the Crown last year. He chairs the iwi authority and the new of Te Urewera.

1. Did you have any concerns about letting German film-maker Sarah Grohnert spend three years documenting Tuhoe's efforts to construct its headquarters under the world's most stringent green building programme?

We were a bit worried about that being a distraction. But she was discreet to the point where sometimes we forgot that she was there. We've never regretted having her. I thought her documentary Ever The Land was a very honest view. She captured that sense of apprehension, discord and disagreement, the problems that had to be negotiated in meeting the Living Building Challenge and the relief when we finished Te Kura Whare. I thought she did a really wonderful job.

2. The fact the film contains no interviews and no narration must've helped?

Yes, it's just recorded conversations. The audience will have to piece things together. I think the film shows how the Tuhoe decision-making structure was being tested.

The main criticism was always going to be the $15 million cost. There were concerns about it being a white elephant. Dissenters questioned whether we should prioritise one building when we have so many housing, employment and welfare issues.

3. How did the concept of creating New Zealand's first 'living building' come about?

During our Treaty negotiations we consulted with thousands of Tuhoe people all over New Zealand and Australia. One thing that came through was people wanted a new headquarters that made a statement about what it means to be Tuhoe, rather than just an office block. Over 50 architectural firms were interested in the job but we went with Jasmax because we liked their principal, Ivan Mercep. He told us about the Living Building Challenge and we liked the concept because it's a metaphor for our values of independence, sustainability, love and respect for the land. Tribal communities had the opportunity to say whether they approved of the concept or not, and they did.

4. So does the Tuhoe tribe operate as a democracy?

In the Pakeha world, democracy means an individual ballot vote. In Tuhoe, we vote as a tribal community. The organisation is structured on kinship lines within extended family and districts. So the Tuhoe Establishment Trust was made up of two members from each community from Waikaremoana and Ruatahuna to Ruatoki and Waimana. They would go back on a monthly basis to inform everybody what was going on. The community gave us its blessing so long as issues like housing and welfare were not abandoned for the sake of one building. They were always a priority and we're now addressing them. That $15 million didn't even come from the principal of our $170 million settlement -- it came from the interest.

5. So does Tuhoe have a chief? What's your title?

Some iwi do use the term chief, but in Tuhoe there's a difference between the external and internal structure. When we communicate with an external body I represent the Tuhoe view but internally I do not speak for Tuhoe. We have leaders at hapu or marae level that rise from those families and are granted support to speak on behalf of their collective. Those leaders use their influence to encourage Tuhoe towards certain goals. I do not have greater authority than them.

6. How did you come to be Tuhoe's principal Treaty negotiator?

After 12 years in the academic world and working around New Zealand I came back to get involved in Tuhoe iwi affairs and served a 15-year apprenticeship in every kind of committee - employment, education, health, welfare - learning as much as I could about the dynamics of people and politics. How it operates is that as you succeed then more responsibility is given to you. I learnt a lot about the strengths and weaknesses of the Tuhoe people.

7. What traits set Tuhoe people apart?

Tuhoe love to fight first and then get down to business later. They test a person's character and resolve by getting them frustrated and angry to see how they operate under pressure, what their humour is like and if they think themselves precious and pious. That way they judge their usefulness. Tuhoe appreciate leaders who are nimble and agile intellectually. Great leaders are people who've had to think outside the normal sphere.

8. Do you think Tuhoe are particularly good at that skill?

Two hundred years of injustice and oppression does that to you. In the 1850s the Crown openly said that they had to exterminate Tuhoe. That's in government records. The view was that Tuhoe could never be rehabilitated from wanting to be masters of their own destiny. So the Crown enacted its scorched earth policy - poison the wells, shoot the cow, burn the house and destroy the crops to starve Tuhoe to death. Inheriting that history shapes your mind in a certain way. You can become embittered but other things are possible.

9. How damaging was the trial of Tame Iti and the 'Urewera Four'?

The Crown charged Tame with putting together a criminal organisation with terror camps through the Urewera that was going to blow up buildings and assassinate people. The end result was none of that was true. Kim Webby has made a documentary called the Price of Peace in the film festival. I'm looking forward to hearing what New Zealanders think about it.

10. What next for Tuhoe?

This building is a blueprint for others we're starting in the next few months. We'll make this technology available at a subsidised cost to Tuhoe home builders and our 30 or so marae. New Zealand currently has a welfare crisis. Dependency is not a good place. There is no honour. It's just another form of slavery. We aim to take responsibility for everyday services like education, health, housing, technology, welfare. So across the paddock there is our medical centre. We own it. We paid for the GPs and we're going to build three more.

11. How will you pay for it all?

In our settlement, we argued successfully that we needed to govern our tribal area. So we can now do things that were not permitted when it was the Urewera National Park. People are entitled to make a living. Te Urewera will once again be able to sustain Tuhoe people. Creating this building has helped Tuhoe restore belief in themselves, because that is the disease of colonisation. Your self-confidence is taken away and it takes a while to restore.

12. There's a proverb in the film about a greenstone door. Can you explain it?

When we signed our agreement with the Crown, we said we'd like to create a pounamu door with the past and all of its pain on one side and the future on the other. Two hundred years of bitterness is hard to break. I think the distrust will linger for some generations on both sides. One has to look at the human condition. Human beings need ideals to raise our lives from the mundane to the esoteric. Pragmatists say history has proved our failure to get along. Idealists plead to the spirit to transcend all that. Despite our wicked history, all human beings value peace and goodwill. I am an idealist but I need the pragmatists around me.

• Two documentaries featuring Tuhoe screen in Auckland as part of the International Film Festival; Ever the Land on July 18 and 21 and The Price of Peaceon July 19 and 22.

NZ Herald

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