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2019-07-24

Protect Ihumātao

Ihumātao Peninsula is a beach in Auckland. Part of it is a wāhi tapu, a Māori sacred site. This wāhi tapu includes one of the oldest Māori hillforts and Ōtuataua, a small volcano. The Ōtuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve covers most of the area, protecting it from being developed on. The area outside the reserve was taken from Māori who supported an anti-British movement 150 years ago and given to settlers to farm. Nowadays, the farms no longer exist and Māori are only people who use the land. However, they risk losing their wāhi tapu again, this time to a construction company: Fletcher Building Limited, one of New Zealand's largest companies.

Save Our Unique Landscape, or SOUL, is a Māori-led organisation made up of people living in Ihumātao. They have been peacefully campaigning both at parliament and in Auckland against Fletcher for years. Despite SOUL being peaceful, police have been called down to arrest and evict the protectors of the wāhi tapu on the 23rd, even going as far as pepper spraying dogs. Māori activists from both Auckland and the rest of New Zealand have come together to protect their land and also shut down an intersection in Wellington in protest. They are being joined by allies who recognise the injustice of the situation.

The New Zealand Labour Party, while in opposition, criticised the National Party for allowing Fletcher to buy the land. Now, as the largest party in government, they have abandoned the people of Ihumātao. Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand and party leader, maintains that there is nothing the government can do to intervene. This is a lie. Fletcher is willing to sell the land back to the government, who can restore it to the Māori people. The government can also seize it by eminent domain and declare it a park or dispute the ownership of the land by the Waitangi Tribunal (although both are much more complex processes than simply buying the land). 

The government is now trying to justify its continued lack of action by saying that the local iwi (Māori tribe), Te Kawerau ā Maki, is working with the developers, and therefore this is an issue solely between Māori. Several other Māori groups (both in the government and NGOs) have said they support Te Kawerau ā Maki or have called all non-Māori to stay out of the argument. I don’t understand these positions: If other Māori are dissatisfied with the actions of an iwi, why is the government not an appropriate party to call for arbitration or to petition? Should all Māori live in an unquestioning obedience to their tribal leadership, even when the leadership sells them out? Te Kawerau ā Maki is far from the only iwi with customary ties to Ihumātao. Other iwis in the area have been just ignored by both the company and the government. Arguably, as one of the oldest sites of Māori settlement, it is not just the heritage of local iwis but of the entire nation. None of the parties in New Zealand's parliament have stood up for the people of Ihumātao other than the Green Party (this is not an endorsement of the party, just stating a fact). It has been hard to find a stance on the issue from any non-Green member of parliament other than Ardern. All I could find was that Labour MP Adrian Rurawhe has attended the Wellington demonstration.

You can help by showing up at Ihumātao. Updates can be found at the official SOUL twitter account: @protectihumatao. If you don't live in New Zealand or can't come, you can donate:
(The site uses New Zealand dollars, which are as of writing this 0.67 USD, 0.60 euros, 0.88 CAD, 42.43 RUR, 46.25 INR, 0.92 SGD, 790.19 KRW, 72.51 yen, 34.28 PHP, 2.21 soles)
There is also a campaign to email Ardern directly. Her email as a government official is j.ardern@ministers.govt.nz.

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