By Glenn Baker.
Graeme Everton is a man on a mission. That mission is to connect the dots on international indigenous trade – and, with the assistance of various organisations in New Zealand, including Poutama (the independent Rotorua-based, self-funded Maori business enabler), he is making those connections stick.
Everton comes across as an easy-going, enthusiastic individual and admits that he thrives on a challenge. “When people tell me something can’t be done, I love to find a way that it can be done,” he says.
Looking at Everton’s career path, it has more twists and turns than a corkscrew – although it has largely revolved around ICT, indigenous development and sustainable futures, and working for himself, because going it alone is when he’s happiest. It’s also why he can often find himself at the leading edge of ideas and boundaries, he explains.
Born in Horowhenua and raised by a hard-working Maori mother and Pakeha father, Everton started out as a radio communications technician before taking redundancy and setting himself up as a sole trader covering a variety of fields including computer servicing and researching for the Maori radio spectrum claim – a cause he has always been totally passionate about. One of the most unusual projects he embarked on was driving around New Zealand in a Kombi van assisting people to claim what was owed to them under the Unclaimed Moneys Act. He revelled in the opportunity to exercise his detective skills, and earned enough commission to fund a six month overseas experience.
Then came seven years researching the application of e-learning in Maori education, two years developing ReoFM and four years as a director of Matatoki Farm Cheese – a sheep dairy producer he had family links to.
But Everton’s true calling was to be a promoter of indigenous trade.
It was a calling that had its genesis during an e-Learning gathering he attended in Fiji, where it seemed every Pacific Island nation campus was represented, but there was no Maori representation. “That got me thinking about the need for Maori to represent themselves better internationally. Tino rangatiratanga (self-determination) doesn’t stop at the border. We are global citizens. We have to act globally and extend ourselves; we should perceive ourselves as international. There’s no reason why ‘Maori Inc’ cannot work in tandem with ‘NZ Inc’, he says. “Ultimately what’s good for one is good for the other, and good for the whole country.”
Everton’s experience with the radio spectrum claim resulted in a greater awareness of the economy and Maori business and fuelled a desire to become involved in international trade.
Today, based out of Palmerston North and the founder of Indigenous Traders, a business dedicated to “facilitating international trade and investment cooperation between indigenous nations”, his focus is to improve the lives of indigenous people; to inspire the world to do business differently.
“With many indigenous communities sharing a common commitment to the environment, the retention of their culture and language and the next generation, there is potential for these communities to work together internationally,” he says. “To provide a strong and powerful block that will drive trade and investment based on shared common values.”
When Exporter caught up with Everton at the beginning of the year, he was spending half his time advising iwi-owned epicurean ventures in New Zealand, and the other half in Canada advising First Nations people on indigenous trade – specifically involving a maple syrup joint venture between Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg in Quebec and Aria Natural Foods, a Maori owned food cooperative and a founding member of Indigenous Traders in New Zealand. The goal is to jointly export/import product between the two indigenous communities.
The First Nations connection came about through a visit by a Canadian business consultant, Petra Kassum-Mutch, during Everton’s time at Matatoki. Kassum-Mutch subsequently invited him back to Canada to connect with First Nations businesses and she is now his Toronto-based partner.
Everton has been busy closer to home too – working to link overseas indigenous-sourced products into New Zealand’s Trade Aid retail and wholesale operations. He recently brokered a deal with Trade Aid to stock Waipoua Forest honey from Northland’s Te Roroa iwi. With Trade Aid in this country shifting its focus to include more foodstuffs, there should be more opportunities such as this, he says.
He also has an ambitious goal for the honey to be on the shelves of the 400-strong Ten Thousand Villages retail chain and aligned stores across North America, along with other indigenous products from New Zealand and Canada. Ten Thousand Villages follows a similar concept to Trade Aid here.
So why is Everton hot on indigenous trade and putting relationships first?
“Because fundamentally you want to line-up your values with other peoples’ values,” he says, “and to create value in relationships, because business is relationships. It’s mutual trust – which is what Maori trade has always been based on, even prior to the arrival of the European.”
His message for Maori businesses is to establish their values here first. “Only then can you extend your values offshore.”
There is now far more awareness of international indigenous trade, Everton points out.
“Take the New Zealand Taiwan Economic Cooperation Agreement, for example. It was the first international agreement that specified indigenous-to-indigenous trade.” (The indigenous people of Taiwan are a clan-based minority who pre-date the Han Dynasty, and Maori have connections with Taiwan spanning 10,000 years.)
However, the challenge now is to put those inserted clauses into action – a task assigned to Te Puni Kokiri. Everton questions whether they have experience in international indigenous trade. He thinks there are strong opportunities in Taiwan, particularly in education.
In a global context, Everton believes Maori indigenous enterprise, “in a modern-day pakeha business sense”, is ten to 15 years ahead of other indigenous groups worldwide – including the US and Canada. You don’t have to look very far to find stand-out successes, he says (think BioFarm, te Pa Wines, Taitokerau Honey, Kaitaia Fire and Okains Bay Seafood to name just a few).
“We have a holistic, robust, economically integrated [indigenous business environment] here which generates energy, recognition, confidence and success at a higher level.”
The beauty of indigenous products, he says, is that they’re different; they stick out in a marketplace of sameness.
The fisheries sector is one in particular that he believes is ripe for developing joint ventures – especially around marketing into Asian markets.
Meantime his key message for indigenous businesses in New Zealand is one of self-challenge. “Go out into the world and connect with other indigenous people, in order to go global in partnership. We’re talking about multi-billion dollar opportunities together, not just hundreds of millions.”
Glenn Baker is editor of Exporter and NZBusiness.