Che Wilson’s connection to Te Hono came via New Zealand Trade and Enterprise in 2013. He was (and still is) a board member for Ātihau-Whanganui Inc, an ancestral Māori farming company based at the foot of Mt Ruapehu in the heart of New Zealand’s North Island. On 42,000 hectares of whānau land Ātihau produces angus beef, lamb, milk, strongwool fibre and mānuka honey for both the domestic market and export.
“Ātihau was a customer of NZTE and they asked me and my wife Missy (who was also involved in the primary sector) if we would be interested in a nomination to attend the Māori Leaders Stanford University Bootcamp.”
Che thought the bootcamp would be an opportunity to serve two purposes; firstly, for their farm to do amazing things – they’d signed with Progressive (now Woolworths) to supply over 25% of the supermarket’s beef needs – and, he also knew that the sector’s sentiment towards Māori was not good.
“I wasn’t really that interested in doubling exports, I was more interested in Māori doing well and how that relates to the country doing well. I thought if we can use bootcamp as a bridge, a hono (connection) to senior leaders in the sector there would be a chance for them to reconsider their attitude and mindset [towards Māori]. When you work with people from different tribes or cultures you have to spend a lot more time working with each other to better understand each other’s 'why'. If we (Māori) were more involved, then we would be able to share what too many think is complex. This thinking creates a barrier in people’s head that makes them treat us differently. But we are no more complex than other groups or sectors that they engage with. So long as people take the time this can be understood. I thought through Te Hono if we could get to that understanding we could do some cool stuff together.”
Ātihau-Whanganui Inc, a Māori-owned farming company based at the foothills of Matua te Mana, Mt Ruapehu, in New Zealand’s central North Island.
When Che attended the Māori Leaders Bootcamp, Te Hono was a year old and didn’t have a name or fully shaped form.
“After going to Stanford and seeing the connections, learning that my own ancestors had been there in the 1920s as part of the Rātana contingent that visited Stanford, and being inspired by everything that is now Te Hono, those at the bootcamp thought well, how do we package this up that gives it legitimacy? What we learnt at the Māori Leaders Bootcamp was that the Stanford delivery team questioned where we were from because we were able to jump, and often quantum jumps, as a group because we were diverse. The fact that we were unashamedly Māori and able to share our difference without realising it; that took us to a place where we thought this is our gift to this kaupapa.”
After a number of discussions amongst the group, Che went back to a saying that is connected to his maternal grandparents’ marae. That saying is Hono Tangata, Hono Wairua.
“Hono Tangata, Hono Wairua is about the connection to the seen and the unseen. After thinking about that a bit more I thought about what the primary industry and the Māori bootcamp is all about, and that’s when I came up with the phrase Hono Tangata, Hono Whenua, Hono ki te ao. That phrase is about connecting to people, to the land in its broadest context (whenua is encompassing of the things that we do on the whenua and that connect to terra firma) and if we can connect people and connect to the land this will help us connect better to the world.
He was deliberate in choosing 'Hono ki te ao', a saying that means connecting to people as if they are our relations from throughout the globe and also connecting people to the rest of the natural world.
“From a Māori world view, a tree is our relation, those insects are our relations and it’s about us having a better connection, a better hono and emphasising building a connection for more than just a touch or to see, but one so that you are in tune with each other. If we are in tune with our own earth, we will be more in tune with everyone around the earth when we meet them, because we will take our time to meet them, talk to them and be deliberate. The intention behind that will be felt and experienced.”
Before Che created this name, he wrote a karakia (prayer or chant).
“The karakia speaks of awakening our consciousness so that we are better connected to the land, because when you are connected to the land you are not going to destroy it. When you are connected to the land and connected to people, and relationships are more meaningful and not transactional, you are also not going to destroy those relationships with those people. That takes you to a relationship that is founded not just on values but on being different, being different going forward, because we need to change our behaviour.”
The bootcamp and being part of Te Hono helped prepare the seed bed for Ātihau to enter into partnership with Ngāti Apa and the Dalrymple family, to buy Flock House farm near Bulls.
“Ātihau was so conservative we would never have done anything like that before Te Hono. The farms have proven that a partnership of Māori and non-Māori interests can work together to create value.”
Miro, a collective of Māori food producers, also came out of bootcamp. Miro combines ancient traditions and values with modern technology and science to produce premium produce for export. It also creates work and career opportunities in horticulture for Māori.
Not one for blowing their own horn, Che admits Māori are humble about their achievements.
“We didn’t go loud about how Ātihau is now selling its lamb and honey direct into the US. There are lots of great actions Māori are taking that go unnoticed and we need to start sharing these stories.
“There’s greater collaboration between parties around honey, crayfish. We’re sharing a lot more with each other. What’s really good is we built a strong bond where we are ready to help each other out. When you experience something together it bonds people. It’s helped us create relationships with each other.”
Ātihau-Whanganui Inc has over 9000 shareholders or whānau (family members) of the Whanganui iwi.
There have been moments of connection that have stood out for Che since bootcamp in 2013 and the coining of Te Hono.
“I’ve attended a number of Te Hono events since that first bootcamp in 2013 and a couple of them really stand out. The Te Hono Hui in Nelson is one. Because our sector (Māori business) is so different - we have to help ourselves and our people move through things and take them to the next level - we come from a really different place. We are always thinking about how we can help our people. Having a hui for us to do things for ourselves was great.
“I also loved the Taupō event; having everyone stay together at the end of the day, not separating out to go back to our own hotels; it takes the relationship to another level. In the Māori world the reason we have a wānanga (forum) the night before the rūnanga (assembly or council) is so that we can sleep next to each other, have a cup of tea and eat together beforehand. We see everyone wake up with their sleep face and it reminds us that we are related. Rather than turning up and 9am and leaving at 1 o’clock, where if you wanted to have a fight you could have a fight and then leave, you have to sleep across from the others first. It does something to remind us that those degrees of separation are really important.”
Asked what he would tell other Māori leaders what Te Hono would give them, Che believes being part of Te Hono is an opportunity to spend time with key leaders from the primary sector, and that bootcamp is an opportunity to learn how some of the best in the world do things and bring that home.
"I thought about what the primary industry and the Māori bootcamp is all about, and that’s when I came up with the phrase Hono Tangata, Hono Whenua, Hono ki te ao. That phrase is about connecting to people, to the land in its broadest context (whenua is encompassing of the things that we do on the whenua and that connect to terra firma) and if we can connect people and connect to the land this will help us connect better to the world."