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Ihumātao | No Treaty Settlement opens three-way Solution
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Ihumātao | No Treaty Settlement opens three-way Solution
Dr Rawiri Taonui

As requested by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, the Kīngitanga have returned from discussions with mana whenua and called on the Government to negotiate with Fletcher Residential to return the Ōruarangi land at Ihumātao to its ‘rightful owners’. Responses from our politicians questioning that recommendation by reference to a Treaty of Waitangi settlement that never occurred and naming the wrong tribe as mana whenua are disappointingly ill-informed.

No Treaty Settlement

Deputy Prime Minister and New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters, Labour Party Deputy Leader and Minister of Crown - Māori Relations Kelvin Davis, Minister for Whānau Ora Peeni Henare, Opposition and National Party Leader Simon Bridges and Deputy Opposition Leader Paula Bennett mistakenly think that Te Kawerau ā Maki (Te Kawerau) are mana whenua at Ihumātao and signed a Treaty settlement for that land and therefore a Government funded resolution will undermine ‘all full and final’ Treaty settlements.

These assumptions seem to stem from former National Government Minister for Treaty Negotiations Chris Finlayson who says he personally ‘negotiated and signed a settlement for all matters at Ihumātao’ on ‘a wonderful day’ at Makaurau Marae on 22 February 2014. Finlayson did sign the Te Kawerau ā Maki Settlement on that date and at Ihumātao; but obviously did not read the agreement because it does not include the 1860s confiscation or any other ‘matters’ pertaining to Ihumātao.

Mana Whenua

The historical record from 1835 to 1966 shows that an amalgam of Ngāti Te Ahiwaru and Ngāti Māhuta (Te Ahiwaru) were mana whenua at Ihumātao and Te Kawerau a related tribe in West Auckland. The Te Kawerau Settlement says that, after becoming virtually landless during the early 1900s, tribal members began leaving West Auckland. Some went to Ihumātao, most scattered across Auckland.


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In 2008, Te Kawerau entered two Treaty processes, one culminating in the Tāmaki Collective Agreement (2012) over the volcanic cones of Auckland, and another for their individual tribal claims in West Auckland. The settlement covering the latter was signed at Makaurau Marae but only because Te Kawerau no longer had a marae of their own.

The signing and location of that agreement, coupled with the fact that inadvertently or otherwise the former National Government left Te Ahiwaru out of the Auckland-Tāmaki process, created the mistaken impression that Te Kawerau are mana whenua for Ihumātao and had signed a settlement for that land. Te Ahiwaru are the principal mana whenua at Ihumātao. Te Kawerau have an interest because some of their descendants live at Ihumātao. There is no Treaty settlement.

The Labour Government

The absence of a settlement opens the possibility of a Crown-led resolution. The Crown has an obligation to contribute. Ihumātao has mana whenua and mana New Zealand archaeological and cultural significance. It has living history. The first two Māori kings Pōtatau Te Wherowhero and Tāwhiao lived there. Devoid of the statues honouring the white heroes of the 1860s Pākehā War on Māori, the land memorialises the forced eviction, internment and loss of indigenous life and stands testament to the resilience of the demographically reduced remnant Te Ahiwaru that survives on the miniscule papakāinga at Ihumātao.

There are numerous precedents for Crown intervention in the public interest, many much larger than that required at Ihumātao. The Crown bailed out insurance company AMI ($500 million) after the Christchurch earthquakes. Under an investor protection scheme, established by former Prime Minister Helen Clark, they bailed out South Canterbury Finance ($1.2 billion), Allied Nationwide ($130m), Equitable Mortgage ($188m) and a host of smaller finance companies. Before that, the Crown bailed out Air New Zealand ($885m) and the Bank of New Zealand ($1 billion), the latter ironically founded on the sale of the 60,000 hectares confiscated in South Auckland, one small corner of which the Crown now baulks.

Crown policy is not to include private land in Treaty settlements, nevertheless the Crown has intervened in circumstances of exceptional cultural value, for example buying and returning a pā on private land in the Te Uri o Hau Settlement (2000). For similar reasons the Crown has returned previously accessible public land, like the 170 hectares in the Ngāti Porou Settlement (2010) and 10 hectares in the Ngāti Tama Settlement (2001).

The Crown has also resolved situations that for whatever reason arose outside of Treaty settlement frameworks. The Crown moved peppercorn leases of Māori land to market rentals through the Māori Reserved Land Amendment Act (1997). This included parallel compensation of $47.5 million to Māori for losses on rental income and over $100 million to mainly Pākehā lessees for loss of equity on farms and properties. If the Crown can pay Pākehā lessees, in today’s dollars what amounts to five times more than what is required to buy Ihumātao, it can settle the furore in South Auckland.


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Auckland Council

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff is another who wrongly labels Ihumātao a ‘Treaty matter’. He has also said that the Council will not be spending $40 million on buying the land and cannot afford to do so because of commitments to other open public space. This is questionable. The Council recently re-designated 233 hectares of its land as open space - Council land, no acquisition cost.

Moreover, the current 10-year Auckland Council Budget includes $1.180 billion for the acquisition and development of open space and local parks. Over the same period the Council is intending to sell $834 million of buildings, golf courses, car parks and parks much of which it wants to see redeveloped including for housing.

It is duplicitous to claim the Council cannot afford 1.5 per cent of that budget for a 50 percent share alongside the Crown to purchase Ōruarangi (current value $36 million) or less if Fletcher front. Alternatively, there is an obvious opportunity to land swap Fletcher onto land Council intends to sell and return Ihumātao to mana whenua.

The Council has a responsibility. Auckland’s avarice drove the 1860s confiscation, its citizens raided Ihumātao stealing possessions and livestock and burning homes. Auckland has benefitted by inestimable billions of dollars in real estate and industry on the confiscated lands in South Auckland. The Council initiated the Auckland Airport development and Māngere sewerage works, which devastated the Ihumātao community. The Council also ignored the advice of its own officials in the confidential Wallace Block Report that substantial dialogue was required with Te Ahiwaru over the Fletcher proposal. Instead, they and Fletcher manipulated Te Kawerau, to progress the project.

Other Councils have shown leadership in similar non-Treaty contexts. In 1990, the former Manukau City Council returned the titles for an urupā and the Te Pūkaki Tapu o Poutūkeka (Pūkaki Lagoon Crater) to the Pūkaki Māori Marae Committee. In 2001, they purchased 100 hectares of private land for $4.7 million to establish the Ōtuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve, and in 2007 another 25 hectares of private land creating the Pūkaki Crater Reserve to be jointly managed with Te Ākitai Waiohua.

There are similar examples around the country, for example in late August this year, the Waikato District Council recommending the return of two portions of land to iwi in Raglan and Whatawhata.

In a paradox of duplicity for Ihumātao, in 2009, the former Waitākere Council, acting outside Treaty processes, paid $1 million for 2.6 hectares of private land at Bethells Rd in West Auckland to build a new Te Kawerau marae. In June this year, a month before the stand-off at Ihumātao, the Auckland Council approved the final transfer. While a significant effort to restore the mana of Te Kawerau, the current Mayor and Council are washing their hands of a similar duty to restore Te Ahiwaru.

Fletcher Residential

Fletcher likewise owe something to Ihumātao. Their cultural illiterate project makes a mockery of the Diversity Award parent company Fletcher Building won in 2018. Their New Neighbourhood - Ōruarangi website talks about a partnership with the wrong mana whenua group, Te Kawerau. They have mounted ad hominen attacks both in the Environment Court and the media against Save Our Unique Landscape (Soul) spokesperson Pania Newton, cynically funded a site Protect Ihumātao mirroring the Soul’s campaign web address and cut off microphones when Fletcher shareholders from Soul spoke at their 2017 AGM.


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Description automatically generatedFletcher have not properly considered the appropriateness of building 480 houses on historic land containing wāhi tapu across the road from the people from whom the land was confiscated. Sited between the Ihumātao papakāinga and the stonefields, the development divides tangata whenua from their heritage.

Fletcher have made much of offers to return eight hectares and reserve 40 homes to mana whenua. As a blank buffer between the development and stonefields the land is an empty gesture. Te Warena Taua, upon whom Fletcher’s facade of partnership rests, has acknowledged that there is no guarantee that tangata whenua would purchase the new houses let alone retain them long term.

Moreover, despite the protocols for wāhi tapu, with potentially over 1000 non-iwi people on the land, history shows there will be no real protection from desecrating burial caves. Previous owners, the Wallace family, dumped rubbish in at least one urupā cave, and in 1940 a family member took a sugar bag filled with human bones to a local school show and tell. The caves have not been fully explored. Fletcher should do the right thing, abandon the project, apologise and contribute one-third by reduced sale or swap for other Council land.

Labour’s Foreshore and Seabed Moment

Morgan Godfrey has aptly called Ihumātao Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s ‘foreshore and seabed moment’. Now widely regarded as a mistake, in 2005, Helen Clark, concerned about a white backlash at the polls, chose to pull back from supporting justice on the foreshore and seabed issue. Labour lost seats to the Māori Party and their hold on the parliamentary benches.

The rhetoric of Ardern’s colleagues shows they too are concerned about a Pākehā backlash. Whatever unfolds, there will be a backlash because racism is predictable, unintelligent and ill-formed. The facts justify action. To step back will augur a significant loss of confidence by Māori in the credibility and niceness of Labour and its Māori caucus.

The shamble of misunderstandings among our politicians requires attention. Thankfully, Labour is introducing New Zealand and Māori history into the primary and secondary curriculum. MPs should attend classes. One wishes teachers good luck in choosing the classroom monitor.


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