Ihumātao sacred site bought by New Zealand government for $30m

Land claimed by Māori and once slated for large-scale private housing development has been brought by the crown, bringing an end to a decades-long land dispute.

Ihumātao, the sacred site in south Auckland, was seized by the crown in 1863, and sold to the private developer Fletcher Building in 2016, which planned to build houses on the land.

Protestors have been occupying the site on and off since 2015, demanding the crown intervene and hand the whenua (land) back to Māori.

Now, in what may prove to be a landmark decision, Jacinda Ardern’s Labour-led government has agreed to pay Fletcher Building NZ$30m for the land, saying it is now slated for a crown-led housing project.

Deputy prime minister Grant Robertson said the decision came after “months” of delicate negotiations, with the Māori king and Māori caucus MPs playing a pivotal role.

“This is a process that is unique and innovative and one that provides for consensus decision making,” Robertson said, adding he didn’t want Ihumātuo to turn into his generation’s Bastion Point, a protracted Māori land dispute in the 1970s, which came to symbolise all indigenous land disputes.

“It is important to see this for what it is, it is a unique settlement outside of the treaty settlement process … we’ve done the right thing in this situation,” said Robertson.

A memorandum of understanding has also been signed by the Kiingitanga (Māori king), the crown and Auckland council which sets out how parties will work together to decide the future of the land.

The housing minister, Megan Woods, said the development of the site would be “sensitive” and may include papakainga (māori), housing for mana whenua (traditional owners) and some public housing.

“It will be a sensitive development that recognises the special characteristics of the land,” Woods said.

But the national party spokesperson for finance said the deal could set a dangerous precedent of “paying of protestors”.

“Taxpayers aren’t a bank to be called upon to clean up the government’s poor decisions, particularly when it is meddling in private property rights,” Michael Woodhouse said.

Kiingi Tuuheitia Pootatau Te Wherowhero VII, the Māori king, has “given his royal blessing to the resolution”, spokesperson Rahui Papa said.

“After more than 160 years of alienation from Ihumātao, the descendants of the original owners will be reconnected with their whenua (land).”

In August 2019 Māori activists seized Ihumātao and staged a mass occupation, with thousands of New Zealanders travelling from around the country to take part in the peaceful sit-in. The aim of the occupation was to reclaim the land for Māori and all New Zealanders as a public space.

Save Our Unique Landscape group (SOUL), the activist group that led and organised the occupation of Ihumātao said the decision affirmed international commitments to indigenous rights and the place of Tangata Whenua of Aotearoa.

Soul leader Pania Newton told the Guardian in 2019 that the occupation was “essential” for Māori.

“The Māori nation is in a crisis. It is a state of emergency for the Māori nation,” said Newton, who traces her ancestral ties to Ihumātao back to the very first Polynesian settlers of New Zealand.

“We’re not taken seriously within these colonial and capitalist structures. And patriarchy comes into that as well.”

Key leaders of SOUL and the occupation of Ihumātao were women aged under 40.

Newton said this was no coincidence, as Māori women have a distinguished history of leading struggles against the crown, and patriarchal rule.

“Women have a great connection to land. We are the child bearers, we are the carers, we are the mothers, we are the nurturers. So it only makes sense that women are leading this campaign. And women have a long history too of overcoming injustice and struggle. Women are fierce, women are strong, women are resilient,” said Newton.

Ardern refused repeated calls to visit the contested site, and was criticised by some for her hands-off approach to the dispute, leaving negotiations to her senior Māori ministers.

However Ardern did ask Fletchers to halt construction on the site in 2019, and the atmosphere at Ihumātao remained peaceful throughout months of occupation.

source: theguardian.com