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A pōwhiri by two south Auckland kaumatua for a controversial wānanga on Ōwairaka-Mount Albert at the weekend is being held up by protesters as a sign of cultural sensitivity.

The wānanga, led by Pouroto Ngaropo of Ngāti Awa’s Te Tawera hapū from Matatā, was done in partnership with the Honour the Maunga group, which is blocking efforts by the Tūpuna Maunga Authority to reforest the mountain with native vegetation indigenous to the area.

The Ngāti Awa Runanga has distanced itself from Mr Ngaropo’s action and says it supports tangata whenua to make the best decisions for their taonga, lands and waters in their rohe.

The wānanga was opened by Martin Cooper, who is of Te Kei O Te Waka O Tainui and Ngāti Whātua descent, and Rangi McLean, who has Mataatua and Tainui connections.

Honour The Maunga spokeswoman Anna Radford says the fact mana whenua formally welcomed the group onto the maunga counters criticisms its tree protection actions are culturally insensitive.

“It was a true honour to be formally welcomed, supported and to receive validation for our own deeply held spiritual connections with Ōwairaka. These connections and beliefs very much align with the Māori spiritual beliefs shared with us during this weekend’s wānanga,” she says.

Honour the Maunga refused to take part in a hui held on the mountain last month when the Tūpuna Maunga Authority and mana whenua representatives explained their position on why 345 exotic trees needed to be cleared from the mountain so replanting could be done over the coming winter.

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