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The Taniwha meets the Dragon

Marae Investigates reporter Jodi Ihaka and cameraman Phillip Melville are part of the Minister of Maori Affairs Dr Pita Sharples Maori business delegation to China. 

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Jodi Ihaka: Entry One

Dragons have always been close to my heart. They are ancient, modern and magical.  They symbolize potent powers, happiness, strength and prosperity.   They also symbolize the Asian economy.  So, in the Year of the Dragon it’s pretty cool to be asked to investigate what it means for Maori to chase the dragon.

For me, it means being part of a trade and enterprise Maori mission to the Peoples Republic of China.  West meets East Maori styles.   I’m writing this from Shanghai where I’m staying.  The wharepaku has a hot-seat and magically flushes and washes if you press the right button.  I’m too whakama.

Chasing the Dragon means travelling with high-powered, high performing Maori business delegates to Beijing and Shanghai led by the ever-charming Minister of Maori Affairs, Dr Pita Sharples. 

He’s awesome and no I’m not related.  So, John Key – make this man the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade.  The Chinese love him.  The bum-bag and the pony tail mixed with the cheeky hori sense of humour and outstanding haka skills provide an absolute deal breaker. 

He’s been meeting and greeting some powerful Chinese leaders from the State Ethnic Affairs Committee.    Beneath the poetry of Chairman Mao – Sharples makes Maori look good. 

I’m looking at the Mission team and I’d like to congratulate Te Puni Kokiri (TPK) for assembling a team that rivals the Avengers

There’s a knight, a former All Black captain, the paapaa of a Shortland street hottie and some full-on military experience from Leith Comer, Sir Wira Gardiner, Matt Te Pou and James Wheeler.  

The downtime conversations are littered with army talk such as man-down. That’s generally when one of the Agri-business boys disappears.  We are a team and we have to look out for each other.

I knew I was in for some special treatment when TPK chief Leith Comer pulled me front and centre for a team photo while at the briefing at the ministry in Wellington.

I’ve got my camera and I’ve assigned myself as the unofficial photographer.

Beijing was great for meeting the New Zealand embassy staff who blew me away with their outstanding powhiri.  Carl Worker calls himself the ambo and speaks Maori and Chinese with ease. 

The Beijing hotel St Regis had metal detector security because they were also hosting Russian leader Vladimer Putin – well that’s what the security told us.

This trip is about our business and its being done by the big guns. 

Sir Wira is joined by his business partner and son Jeremy and their other business partner Cyril Martin. They’re abuzz after hooking a pretty sweet Manuka Honey deal with a traditional Chinese pharmaceutical company that’s been serving Emperors since the 1600s –.

Just how much money they’re making won’t be revealed for commercially sensitive reasons.  We were taken to the stores where the honey will be sold. They’re stoked to be dealing with New Zealand especially Maori.  So stay tuned to Marae Investigates as I will provide you with an exclusive insight into how Maori are doing business in China successfully.

Most iwi are represented on this mission so I’ll start with Te Hiku O Te Ika. Ngapuhi, Te Rarawa, Te Aupouri and Ngati Kanu business executive June McCabe was on the first mission and returns again because Dr Sharples personally invited her.  June’s a former TVNZ board member with extensive experience in the public, finance and banking sectors. She’s a member of the Maori Economic Development Panel working to boost the potential of the taniwha – that’s what we’re all calling the Maori economy now. 

Making a bigger splash with whale watching is, Kauahi Ngapora – the multi-award winning tourist operator from Kaikoura.  He’s funny and focused.  He’s joined by Wenbin Ju who was born in China but came to Aotearoa when he was 18.  He’s the marketing assistant for Asia and they’re chasing the upmarket Chinese.     

The kuia of the mission is the chief executive of Maori Tourism Pania Tyson-Nathan who is working with Maori tourism operators and aims to assist operators in the global market. She also happily prescribes medication to the lads when they’ve got headaches.

Of course it wouldn’t be a Maori group without rugby.

So we have a former All Black captain who happily poses for photo after photo after photo after photo. I’m yet to ask for one myself but I will – soon.  Taine Randall is now director for Kaitiaki Land Services.

Our karakia leader is the former Maori All Blacks coach and Central North Island chairman of the board Matt Te Pou.

Matt keeps us all in line.  His 23 years in the military – including training elite officers at Duntroon– sees him use cool fighting terms such as man-down!  This happens when we lose people such as agri-business farmer Whatarangi Murphy-Peehi. The Ngati Rangi, Te Ati Haunui A Paparangi, Tuwharetoa dude with the cool cowboy hat owns a 1000 hectare property and a dairy unit near Ohakune. His optimism and freedom of speech is utterly delightful – like his Akubra.   He’s joined by Abe Hepi who is the Atihau Whanganui Inc Management committee. 

Education is well represented with Hinerangi Raumati – the executive director at Te Wananga O Aoteaora – the third largest tertiary institution in New Zealand.

Marion Kerepeti-Edwards is the founding director and owner of the National Institute of Studies and has spent more than a decade on International education.

The fishing industry sees two Pakeha step up with Simon Jones from Aotearoa Fisheries LTD – which is the largest Maori owned fisheries company in the world.

And Brian Moriarty is the chief executive of Ngai Tahu Seafood business.  I think both of them were at this coroners court hearing I was at in Wellington recently. I’m praying to the dragons that they don’t remember me – or read this.

And because we’re multi-cultural - there’s a very nice Tongan man.  David Harrison was born and raised in Rotorua and is head of Maori relationships for ANZ and the National Bank.

He’s happy to talk about how to get Maori to invest – particularly in Agricultural business.

Making the most of this situation is the Maori Trustee Jamie Tuuta who was a recipient of the Sir Peter Blake Emerging Leadership Award. 

The Poutama Trust is well represented too.  There’s Richard Jones, the CE of Poutama Trust. He’s an advisory board member of Export NZ and runs his own business which includes investment, property, dairy farming and kiwifruit.

There’s the deputy chair James Wheeler – who served in the army and is a former chair and CE of Tohu Wines.

And there’s the current CE of FOMA, Te Horipo Karaitiana who has been involved in growing the Maori economy for more than 20 years.  He’s astute and has fantastic Maori ink on his arms.

The only Chinese female on this Maori mission is Dr Xiaying Fu. She’s passionate about the promotion of bilateral trade and is a director of Kiwa Media.  She came very close to convincing me to eat a traditional fermented Chinese egg.

So there you have it.  This is my team. My Maori mission. These people are amazing and I applaud every single one of them as well as Dr Sharples for bringing them to China.

These Maori organisations are not wallowing in the misery of colonization. They’re growing assets and creating solutions and they have a lot of money to spend.  The estimated $36.9 billion dollar Maori economy is growing up and moving into tough markets.

Dr Pita Sharples says Maori and Chinese cultures are connected because we share the same DNA.  He loves China and China loves him right back.

Seriously, it’s very cool to be Maori in China right now.  Sharples is treated like a rock star because he effortlessly oozes charm then magically weaves his cheeky hori sense of humour with big business ideals in the hope that it will move Maori from pohara to premium.

Despite the bum bag firmly secured around his puku, and his hair in a pony, he talks the talk that gets deals done.

We carry the hopes and aspirations of our ancestors and we take all our quirky customs with us.

We sang Pokarekare Ana on the Great Wall of China.

We have a karakia every morning to enable spiritual sustenance and pave the way for a prosperous day.

And when we acknowledge speeches with waiata we are led by the beautifully vocally gifted Te Waka Huia Maori Club co-leader Annette Wehi.

Just how I ended up on this Maori trade and development mission to China astounds me.  I believe in the Taniwha - and I think good things are happening to me because it’s the Year of the Dragon.

Maybe that’s why I got to spend the day hanging out with the young Chinese man who helped pave the way for his feed-lock sheep farming Pengxin Group to buy Crafar Farm.

He’s ambitious, funny and honest.  He assures me China is not about to invade Aotearoa.  But that’s another story.

So keep watching Marae Investigates as I put your questions to these delegation members.