Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki is a relatively small iwi making big moves.

The latest is the purchase of the property of Maclean’s College in Bucklands Beach, a sprawling 13 hectares valued at more than $120 million – the most expensive school grounds the Crown has ever sold.

As well as housing developments across the city and restoration projects out in the Hauraki Gulf, it’s an investment with a two-pronged intention: not only to ensure the financial future of the iwi, but also to revitalise the manawa or heart of its people.

Ngāi Tai CEO Tama Potaka said the purchase of the school grounds, which was completed with the help of the six other iwi comprising the Hāpai Commercial Property Collective, allows Ngāi Tai to celebrate and assert its identity.

“We can put up our flag as Ngāi Tai and say to ourselves, our own tribal members, as well as the world, we have acquired or reacquired this piece, in the land here in the middle of our rohe,” he said.

Purchase of the school grounds was an opportunity granted as part of the iwi’s deed of settlement, which was finalised in 2018. It ensures a steady flow of revenue from the Ministry of Education – funds the iwi is putting to use on other projects such as a 350-home housing development in Middlemore.

Ngāi Tai has facilitated or built around 215 homes over the past three years, with 120 at a development in Waterview and around 95 at a site in Pukekohe.

Iwi chair James Brown said the group’s involvement with housing was an opportunity to help fix the crisis in Auckland around the affordability of home ownership.

“Really it’s just our small contribution to the crisis,” he said.

Brown sees iwi as taking a more central role in future-proofing Auckland and collaborating around infrastructure development.

“I’m telling a number of audiences that within five years, iwi in Tāmaki will be the largest developers in Auckland,” he said.

Jane Holland, a property lawyer and partner with law firm Bell Gully, has worked with Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki on some of their initiatives. With a long involvement in New Zealand’s property market, she said it was exciting to see the growth in participation by iwi in property projects.

“While Māori organisations are of course very diverse, many have intergenerational investment horizons and give priority to social, cultural and environmental drivers alongside commercial aspirations. It can really bring new energy to developments,” she said.

Tribal membership for Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki has grown steadily over the past decade, with 498 people in the 2013 census, increasing to an estimate of 693 by the iwi in 2018. But the big jump came in the past few years, with 1367 people on the tribal register as of 2021.

Alongside this, the iwi has amassed around $30 million of consolidated assets, around $10 million of which was acquired in the past two years.

These assets have included the property of Glen Innes Police Station, Maraetai Beach School and Clevedon Primary School.

It’s all a part of the expanding Māori economy, a sector that has grown to be worth $70 billion, with overall Māori asset base growing at 10 percent per year over the past decade.

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Matthew Scott covers immigration, urban development and Auckland issues.

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