Types of governance structures
There are formal and informal governance options for Māori land. Find out about your options.
Not all whenua needs a formal governance structure. If you have a small and engaged ownership base who work together well and can make effective decisions together, you may not need a formal governance structure.
But if you want to apply for funding, or if you need some structure to help with making decisions, you should look at setting up a trust or incorporation.
If you're not sure what the best option is for your whenua, talk to kaimahi at the Māori Land Court or a Te Puni Kōkiri regional advisor.
Māori land trusts
Trusts can be set up to govern whenua. Trustees are appointed and it's their responsibility to make decisions about the land for the benefit of all the owners.
When the trust is set up, rules will be agreed for things like:
- how the trust will be run
- how decisions will be made, and
- who needs to be at meetings.
If owners of Māori land decide to put their land into a trust, the trust needs to go through a formal process with the Māori Land Court (MLC) to establish it.
There are 6 types of Māori trusts specified in Te Ture Whenua Māori Act. There are 3 land-based trusts, where blocks of land are held in the trust, and 3 share-based trusts, where shares in blocks of land are held in a trust.
Share-based trusts combine individual shareholdings into a collective, then the trustees act on behalf of all the shareholders.
A whanau trust combines the shares in whenua Māori from a group of related owners, or an individual, into one holding. The whānau trust becomes the legal owner of the whenua.
When you set up your whānau trust and nominate one or more tīpuna, all future descendants will automatically be included in the whānau trust.
You can nominate one or more trustees to act on behalf of the collective when decisions are being made about the whānau trust and whenua.
Pūtea trusts allow the landowners of small and uneconomical interests in land to pool their interests together.
A kaitiaki trust is when a trustee is appointed to manage the shares of someone who is a minor or who has a disability and can't manage their affairs themselves.
You need to apply to the Māori Land Court and provide evidence for why a kaitiaki trust is necessary.
For more information about these types of trusts, speak to kaimahi at the Māori Land Court (MLC), or read their information booklet.
For a land-based trust, a block (or multiple blocks) of whenua is vested in the trust. The 3 land-based trusts are:
Ahu whenua trust
The ahu whenua trust is the most common type of Māori land trust. It's often used for commercial purposes, like farming or developing a block of land. An ahu whenua trust can have more than one block of land vested in it. An ahu whenua trust:
- gives owners the opportunity to combine separate blocks of whenua into one entity. This helps to create scale or combine resources with other land blocks
- is led by the responsible trustees, who are responsible for governing the whenua on behalf of all owners, for the benefit of all owners. This includes any funds and assets the trust owns
- becomes a single point of contact for owners of the block/s vested in it.
Whenua tōpū trust
Whenua tōpū is a structure that ensures the land is held for certain purposes — for iwi or hapū and/or for a community purpose.
The ownership schedule is frozen, meaning that no further land transfer orders will be recorded against this block. Ownership in trusts like these are about your ability to whakapapa to the names on the schedule, not about having your own name on the schedule.
It's really important to have a strong governance board for a whenua tōpū trust, working on behalf of the uri of those named on the ownership schedule.
Some whenua can be set up as a reservation. A reservation can be established for things like:
- a village site
- a marae or meeting place
- a sports or recreational ground
- a spring, a well, or a catchment area or other source of water supply
- a place of cultural, historical or scenic interest
- an urupā (burial ground).
Māori incorporations are like companies. They're set up to develop and care for whenua on behalf of the owners.
They have a committee of management, who are elected by shareholders (the land owners). The committee is responsible for governance decisions. The incorporation might also have paid employees, who do the management mahi.
Māori incorporations must have a constitution, which sets out the rules and requirements for things like:
- general meetings of shareholders
- committee of management
Māori incorporations are governed by the Māori Incorporations Constitution Regulations 1994.