Māori Education Trust back in hot water

By Hone-Haunui Rapana

The Māori Education Trust has landed itself in hot water again with iwi after selling off another block of gifted land to clear its debt, this time with South Waikato iwi, Ngāti Maniapoto.

Since Native Affairs revealed in a story last month that a prime dairy farm in the Wairarapa was being sold off by the trust for similar purposes, locals of Ngāti Maniapoto have spoken out. 

Ouruwhero is a multi-million dollar dairy farm in South Waikato.  A 120ha block which was gifted to the Māori Education Trust by local kuia Mihikiteao Thomson in her will to "train young Māori farmers".

But that dream is no longer after the Trust got into financial difficulties forcing them to sell the farm.  They called in Māori farm specialist, Te Tumu Paeroa to revive it, and after they did that, they brought it for $5mil.

Roger Wereta says, "Her gift and her wishes had been overridden by people who had been entrusted to look after this."

What makes it worse, local iwi Ngāti Maniapoto were not informed of the sale. 

John Kaati from the Ngāti Maniapoto Trust Board says, "The Maniapoto Trust Board should have been the first port of call.  Where there's the possibility of a land bank or land being banked, then we usually talk to the Crown about these issues.  I'm not happy that that didn't happen to the extent a formal letter should have been sent."

Wereta says it all went wrong when the trust decided to make more money by milking more cows.  This move put strain on the staff and cattle. 

He adds, "There were staff bringing in cows that were just totally exhausted, a half an hour walk was taking them 3 hours so we were forced into drying cows off and going once a day.  It had a huge impact on the business and as a farm manager it's a pretty hard pill to swallow and it's totally out of your control."

In an interview last month with the chairman of the Māori Education Trust, Bill Hamilton, he said mistakes were made in the re-development of the two farms. 

Hamilton says, "We shouldn't have developed the two milking sheds at the same time, and all of the things that go with that.  We probably should have done one at the time, we thought we had a good deal going there. But other things came on as well and then of course the prices went up and down in the dairy industry that made it more difficult."

The Maniapoto Turst Board wanted to have an input on this matter and will discuss it with Te Tumu Paeroa, as keeping the land as a training facility for young Māori Farmers was the preferred option for them.