Tomoana: From zero to $100 million in 20 years

By Aroha Treacher
  • North Island: East Coast

Ngahiwi Tomoana's reign as chairman of Ngāti Kahungunu Iwi Inc continues after being re-elected for a 7th term.

"Every night, every day I couldn't sleep because I thought that the iwi might've had enough of me," he says with a laugh.

Beating out other candidates Mike Paku and Rill Meihana by more than the double the votes, it now makes 20-years since he's been at the helm of the iwi.

After the collapse of Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Kahungunu in 1994 Tomoana was first elected as chair in 1996 to the reformed Ngāti Kahungunu Iwi Incorporated - an organisation with a flat balance sheet.

At the time, he was living in a caravan with his six children while his log house was being built in Pakipaki while working for an organisation that had no money to pay him for a few years.

Since then he has spent the last 20 years building overseas business relationships to help build the iwi's commercial value from zero to the tens of millions.

That has largely come from building up its fisheries cash settlement of more than $30 million including shares in Sealord and Aotearoa Fisheries, which has now turned into a $100 million value. 

Aside from the overseas fisheries market, that figure includes key purchases such as the Tautane Farm and most recently the purchase of the Fiordland Lobster Company factory in East Auckland, which is owned by the iwi's business arm, Kahungunu Asset Holding Company and will process around 300 tonnes of lobster a year.

After the fisheries settlement it was decided to allow all its hapū to make their own claims rather than the iwi handling it on their behalf, "people were saying we were mad but now hapū have got their claims," he says.

Today hapū are seeing the fruits of that decision, by being able to settle their own claims and receive a much larger settlement, collectively worth more than $400 million of all hapū that has signed or settled.

Ngāti Kahungunu is the third largest iwi in the country and has more than 61,000 registered members, "The biggest thing to me is really listen to desires and dreams of the Iwi and then my job is to make those dreams into a reality for them."

At 61-years-old he still has more aspirations for his iwi, to have everyone fluent in Te Reo Māori and to be a self-sufficient business entity in the future.