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Born to lead – Bayden Barber has big aspirations for iwi

Bayden Barber was born to lead but as just the second chair of Ngati Kahungunu in 26 years, he will need to draw on all his leadership skills to navigate the iwi and its people to prosperity. In 2022 Bayden beat incumbent chair Ngahiwi Tomoana to become chair of the iwi that represents 60,000 people, more than 100 marae and more than 100 hapū.

When he was a youngster, Bayden (eldest of four) says leadership was an expectation within his whānau – led by his kuia Haumiaha Te Whaiti – and drawn from his whakapapa, which included being a descendent of Waimarama high chief Tiakitai.

“My grandmother was very influential in my early days in terms of encouraging me to look after our whakapapa and our obligations to marae and hapū. “Leadership had been instilled in me for a long time but I didn’t really pay too much attention to it as I was still young but looking back, there’s always been that expectation of leadership.”

After going off to study a Bachelor of Management Studies and Postgraduate Diploma in Strategic Management at Waikato University, Bayden returned to Hawke’s Bay. A leadership role as chair of Waimarama Marae, which is situated below his family homestead, would be the first on his leadership journey that would see him being elected as a two-term councillor with Hastings District Council from 2017–2022. He only stepped down at the end of his second term due to time commitments with the iwi as well as some other directorships such as Beef and Lamb New Zealand, Health Hawke’s Bay and Te Taiwhenua o Heretaunga.

“I had been asked by our own people to consider standing in previous elections, so there was a desire from our own kaumatua for a change at the helm of the iwi. However, at that time I had just come on to the council and I had those responsibilities in front of me, so the timing wasn’t great, but it planted a seed within me to keep an eye on that space.”

Bayden says the mix of governance roles has helped shape his leadership style.

“Marae and hapū politics is a bit like being thrown into the fire at a young age. You have to put in the hard yards. I was chair of my marae for six years and that’s a pretty tough role.

“You add new skills to your kete along the journey and local government taught me good governance practices as well as a deeper knowledge of the big issues such as water and housing.

“You can’t just expect to walk into an iwi leadership role. To get elected, people want to see you have done other roles and that you are able to move the kaupapa forward.”

At the prior Ngati Kahungunu election in 2017 Ngahiwi stated it would be his last, but he changed his mind in 2022. Bayden admits that although it’s a bigger challenge taking on an incumbent, Ngahiwi’s change of mind opened up the debate and gave members the opportunity to listen to each candidate’s ideas and make a more informed choice. “I don’t think you should wait for someone to retire.

If you want to be iwi chair then you have to be willing to take on the incumbent and if you win, it’s because the people see you as the future.” Bayden is already making an impact, some of which has been forced upon him due to the poor financial performance of the iwi’s Asset Holdings Company, mostly associated with its fisheries entity Takitimu Seafoods. The company has been hit by two years of poor financial performance, posting a $6.8 million loss in 2020/21, which forced a restructure and the loss of 40 jobs along with the closure of its Hastings retail outlet. In 2021/22 a further loss of $5,558, 334 was reported.

Bayden has since led an overhaul of the Asset Holdings Company board, adding three new professional directors – Ratahi Cross, Mike Devonshire and Alex Guilleux – who join Bayden, Trevor Moeke as chair, Heather Skipworth and Barry Wilson to try and right the waka.

Bayden says it’s vital assets such as Takitimu Seafoods, residential property company K3 (which hopes to build 130 houses by the end of 2024) and Tautane Station (a 3,500-hectare sheep and beef farm it leases in Herbertville) perform so as to deliver on the iwi’s cultural, social and environmental aspirations.

“We want to make sure that Ngati Kahungunu is excelling across the four wellbeing pillars. For the iwi to be successful, our people need to be thriving, they need good jobs, a good home and a good education, and they need to be engaged in their whakapapa and te reo.

“The economic aspirations of our iwi will enable us to support the social and cultural aspects and we want to be able to use our profits to fund scholarships and welfare systems.”

Bayden’s pretty clear on what he’ll be judged on as iwi chair – the 130 new homes hoped to be built, $120,000 in tertiary scholarships and a better financial return from its investment portfolio.

“But it’s more than that: it’s how many of our marae have potable drinking water; how many in our communities are connected to three water services; and how many whānau we can support directly or indirectly through relationships with the likes of Kainga Ora to get them into affordable rentals or home ownership.”

Soon after the election Bayden initiated a closer working relationship with the local post-settlement entities and Te Taiwhenua o Heretaunga on government reforms such as Three Waters as well as discussions on wider opportunities. A first-ever retreat was held in July 2022 with more planned.

“They all have their own autonomy and economic base to grow and we understand that, but if we had a vision where we could all come together for the betterment of our people that would be huge. “If you look at how people are doing business today it’s about partnerships. Collectively, up and down Ngati Kahungunu, you are talking about half-a-billion to a billion dollars’ worth of assets and cash, including the iwi, Te Taiwhenua o Heretaunga and other entities, as well as collectively having a much stronger political influence.”