Ihumatao: the fuck off factor


The restrained and peaceful protest at Ihumatao an historic iwi habitation site on the Manukau Harbour to the south of Auckland would seem to be reaching its predictable conclusion – the Fletcher development will go ahead.

For a very long time I’ve been trying to avoid writing this article because every time I’ve thought about it, it’s brought up so many more social and legal issues

Post colonial New Zealand saw land being alienated through dangerous or derisory sale practices: muskets, trinkets, miniscule amounts of money and sales without the consent of all real “owners”.    Irrespective of colonial promises, opposition to alienation and the associated conflict resulted in the confiscation of huge tracts of land and the dispossession of the existing communities. There are ongoing claims for compensation and restitution. The view of the colonisers, which generally still persists today, is that the land should be clean, tidy and productive.

I’ve had close family friends take me to a bush site of sacred significance to them, their whanau and iwi. What could I see – nothing out of the ordinary just the bush. Another member of that extended family showed me a collection of stones, some large, some small –nothing unique to me – they believed contained the Mauri or life force of the whanau.

Bullshit?   I don’t think so.   Last ANZAC Day hikoi at Te Puna one of the women let me hold a stone taken from beach at Gallipoli. A small and ordinary pebble containing the Mauri of so many New Zealanders.

How would you feel if I told you I was subdividing Gallipoli and building houses? How would I feel if you told me that you were sub-dividing the World War I cemetery in France where Frank my 19-year-old soldier Great Uncle  is buried.   We’d both understand that desecration.   We understand the destruction of the unique cultural architecture and artifacts in Syria. There is no distinction between that and the destructive development of Ihumatao.

The fire which destroyed much of Notre Dame the ancient cathedral in Paris provoked an outpouring of international emotion. Here I heard one media commentator suggest that most probably we couldn’t understand the angst as New Zealand didn’t have any ancient buildings.   We do – but they’re not post-colonial buildings or sites. Ihumatao is one of, if not the oldest, of the Auckland region’s inhabited sites.

The residents of Christchurch and wider New Zealand for years have engaged in angry argument about the fate of the damaged Christchurch Cathedral – a post-colonial icon. It’s been described as “nothing more than a village church.” So by international architectural and historic standards it’s nothing much. But it is an intrinsic part of our culture and of value for so many reasons other than its stones and structure.

Every time I went to Christchurch I would go to the Cathedral. I would eat in the café there. I would sit there. On one occasion pre-earthquake the glass verandah over the main door had shattered. I collected some of those fragments and brought them home with me.   Culturally and emotionally we value the Cathedral which is “nothing more than a village church” in a way we do not value Ihumatao which is a unique and important cultural site.

The land at Ihumatao which is the subject of the protest and current evictions and arrests was designated as a Special Housing Area – development areas where it seems it’s easier and faster to build housing.   Lack of affordable housing is a real issue for many in New Zealand, and particularly Auckland. But building more and more houses is not going to address that issue for ordinary New Zealanders because the incredibly low wages and relatively high cost of living puts the price of the “affordable housing” out of their reach.   This is a reality. So who will be buying the Fletcher Buildings Limited houses?

Why was this land designated a Special Housing Area?  I am a Trademe property “cruiser”. There are large areas of land in various stages of development, or designated for development, in the wider Auckland South area. There is a large and relatively undeveloped sub-division on the other side of the Manukau Harbour at Kahawai Point.

Ironically the Kahawai Point subdivision exemplifies another concern I have about the extermination of productive and growing land on the Auckland fringe. I’m old enough to have driven to work through a rural Manukau and South Auckland, to have seen the development of Manukau City and wondered why so much industrial development was placed on incredible farming, growing and productive land. It’s happening again further south as developments around the Franklin, Pukekohe and Auckland South gobble up those rich, red and volcanic soils.     New Zealand has a lot of land but limited amounts of “productive land”.

If the reason for the Special Housing Areas is to provide accessible and affordable “housing” why could the undeveloped subdivision at Kahawai Point not have been bought by the Government and swapped with Fletcher’s for the Ihumatao land?    I’m not suggesting a “forced sale” just a solution. And one which does not undermine the general principle of private “freehold title” in New Zealand. 

In the 1860’s  Tauranga Maori who opposed colonial expansion and land aquisition were called “rebels”. On the memorial at the Otamataha Pa cemetery site it uses different words –  “warriors who fought in defence of their lands”.   In time the people at Ihumatao will not be called protesters but brave warriors.

The memorial in the Otamataha Mission Cemetery acknowledging the effort by by local Tauranga Maori to protect their land

Rosemary Balu. Rosemary Balu is the founding and current Managing Editor of ARTbop. Rosemary has arts and law degrees from the University of Auckland. She has been a working lawyer and has participated in a wide variety of community activities where information gathering, submission writing, community advocacy and education have been involved. Interested in all forms of the arts since childhood Rosemary is focused on further developing and expanding multi-media ARTbop as the magazine for all the creative arts in the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand.

 “From the SOUL website:

A brief history:

In 2014 Auckland City, using the Special Housing Areas Act, designated 32 hectares adjacent to the Otuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve as a special housing area. This land, known as Puketāpapa, was confiscated ‘by proclamation’ under the New Zealand Settlements Act in 1863 as part of the colonial invasion of the Waikato that drove mana whenua of South Auckland from their lands ahead of the settler armies. These Crown actions breached the partnership agreement forged in the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi. The former Manukau City Council sought to ensure that it would become part of OSHR but its strenuous efforts to purchase Puketāpapa were thwarted by the landowner whose antecedents had obtained it by Crown grant in 1867. The boundary lines between the OSHR and SHA62 are simply the 1866 surveyor’s carve up of the confiscation that dissects a rich, storied, and culturally and heritage-wise continuous landscape. The land is now owned by Fletcher Residential Limited, which intends to build a low-density subdivision with 480 high-price dwellings on this heritage landscape. 

It is important to understand that this land is a crucial part of one of the last remnants of the archaeologically rich stonefields landscape across Auckland and, as a natural component of the adjacent but legally separate OSHR, it holds the stories of the earliest inhabitants of our country. The OSHR protects the places where the first Māori gardeners lived and worked using the stones and the microclimates they created to grow their Pacific Crops. SHA62 similarly is one of the last surviving places where the land and stone walls used by Māori for growing new crops such as wheat and European vegetables for the Auckland markets prior to 1863, still exists. It is of special significance in that here the ancient and more recent gardens stand next to each other. These places are even rarer than the stonefields were at the time of the creation of the Ōtuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve. Unlike the OSHR this land has been allowed to be scheduled for destruction without proper consultation with mana whenua and affected Māori. This land is strategically located only a few miles from Auckland International Airport and should be considered as a very promising location for a world class visitor, research, education centre, working farm and open green space. 

The creation of and now protracted controversy over SHA 62 enacts yet another layer of injustice, in what was already a fraught history of Crown-Māori relations in this place. Fletcher, a majority foreign-owned corporation, was able to use the provisions of the pro-development, anti-democratic, SHA Act 2013 to shut out and silence mana whenua grievances and community concerns over the proposed development. The proposed development coupled with the Act’s consultation restrictions led to tensions at a local level among mana whenua. With a sense of inevitably, some sought to mitigate the anticipated serious and wide-ranging impacts of the SHA development while others (including the rangatahi who co-founded SOUL) mobilised supporters into action, to continue to use any and all legal and political means to stop the SHA62 development. Again, a Pākehā law and Pākehā processes have driven a wedge between affected Māori, creating a divided house. The Government must intervene and create an opportunity for meaningful engagement so that all affected Māori can express their concerns and interests.
In seeking to redress this latest injustice, the SOUL campaign has used various methods of non-violent direct action to create public support through a series of local, national and international events that include guided walks and events on the land, New Zealand Herald opinion pieces (May 2016 and October 2017), television engagement (a Sunday Programme that reached 500,000 New Zealanders, TV One and Maori TV primetime news items, a recent “Breakfast” interview on 22 February 2018, and a Heritage Rescue Programme to be screened in August 2018), numerous other media reports, a petition to Parliament, a delegation to the previous Social Services Select Committee, meetings with former Government Ministers, and presentations to the United Nations in May 2017 (at the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York and in a separate one hour meeting with the PFII Special Rappatour) and in August 2017 (at the Committee on the Elimination of Racism and Discrimination (CERD) in Geneva).
On 25 August 2017 CERD, after deliberation over the SOUL report and presentations as well as representations from the New Zealand Government delegation, delivered two recommendations on the issue as follows:

Special Housing Area 62 :
18. The Committee is concerned by conflicting information regarding consultation with local Māori in connection with the designation of Special Housing Area (SHA) 62 at Ihumātao on land traditionally and currently occupied by Māori. The
Committee notes that this land has been sold to a commercial developer who is required to actively mitigate the effects of development. While noting the State party’s position that it adequately consulted and obtained support from Māori authorities
 regarding the designation, the Committee is concerned by alternate reports that Māori have not had the opportunity to formally  take part in decision-making with respect to use of the land (arts. 2, 5.) 
19. The Committee recommends that the State party review, in consultation with all affected Māori, the designation of Special Housing Area 62 to evaluate its conformity with the Treaty of Waitangi, the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and other relevant international standards, and that the State party obtain the free and informed consent of Māori before approving any project affecting the use and development of their traditional land and resources. 
As Ministers of Justice responsible for human rights, we ask you to address these recommendations as a matter of urgency. We know the controversy over SHA62 is highly complex, with many interests at stake, but the consultation issues are straightforward and must be properly considered. Our country’s reputation is at stake; we cannot afford to be seen internationally to override the basic human rights of our indigenous peoples.

SOUL is urgently seeking Government and Auckland Council intervention, to either buy the land from Fletcher Building Limited (the current owner) or mandate a process that will enable all affected parties to come up with an outcome everyone can live with. Thousands of New Zealanders want this land protected for future generations – join us by signing this petition.Why is this important?
The Ihumaatao landscape (of which the land in question, Special Housing Area 62, is a part) is recorded on the United Nations International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) at risk register. This rare cultural heritage landscape (including SHA 62) matters because its stories, relationships, built heritage, ecological values and archaeological sites are critical to our understanding of the histories and futures of our city and country. 
For mana whenua (local Māori), this place embodies sources of identity and wellbeing as well as family, community and tribal relationships. This area is one of the last remnants of the archaeologically rich stonefields landscapes across Auckland. As part of the adjacent, but legally separate, Otuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve, the land in question holds the stories of the earliest inhabitants of our country. It is one of the last surviving places where the land and stone walls used by Māori for growing new crops, such as wheat and European vegetables for the Auckland markets prior to 1863, still exists. Here, the ancient and more recent gardens stand next to each other. This cultural landscape connects with one of New Zealand’s’ oldest continuously inhabited papakainga (village) and this connection will be irreparably broken by the proposed development. Houses built up to the existing boundary of the Historic Reserve will threaten its future. The land was confiscated ‘by proclamation’ under the New Zealand Settlements Act in 1863 as part of the colonial invasion of the Waikato that drove mana whenua from their lands, ahead of the settler armies. Overnight they were made landless and impoverished. Now, that existence is further threatened by the commercial development. The proposed development site is only a few kilometres from Auckland International Airport and should be considered as a promising cultural, heritage and ecotourism location. For many years there have been aspirations for social enterprise, local employment and sustainability initiatives that enable kaitiakitanga and tino rangatiratanga. These aspirations range from a mana whenua-led research, visitor and education centre, a food forest, a working farm, guided walkways, cultural experiences, and, open green space. 

Local and central government used the fast-track, developer-friendly provisions of the Special Housing Areas Act 2013 to designate the land. Mana whenua and community concerns were sidelined. Mana whenua have suffered enough for the good of the developing city and every critical account of history agrees with them.Now is the time for all parties to work together to ensure the wellsprings of culture remain intact, giving opportunity to fulfil generational aspirations.
For more than three years, the SOUL campaign to #ProtectIhumātao has engaged in non-violent, direct action to raise awareness and build public support. Our guided walks and events on the land have attracted thousands of visitors. We have presented concerns to the Auckland Council Governing Body and to Parliament, met with politicians and been to the United Nations three times in two years. In 2017 the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racism and Discrimination wrote to the NZ Government recommending that it ensure proper consultation with all affected Maori on this issue. 

A recent Environment Court decision showed significant flaws in New Zealand’s heritage legislation that did not allow the Court to consider the values of whole cultural heritage landscape when reviewing Heritage NZ’s decision to grant the company the authority to modify or destroy Maori archaeological and other heritage sites on the land. Gaining that authority doesn’t make the decision right, it simply puts it within the narrow terms of the existing law and allows the developer to proceed.

SOUL has now exhausted every legal means to stop the development. We need the Government and Auckland Council to step in. We are fast approaching a confrontation on the land, but will keep doing everything we can to prevent that from happening. We need collective action and innovative thinking to resolve this mounting crisis.

We are the Save Our Unique Landscape (SOUL) campaign and we are led by mana whenua members whose families have resided in Ihumaatao for many generations. Their whakapapa links to the whenua include Ngati Mahuta, Te Ahiwaru, Waikato-Tainui, Te Akitai and Te Waiohua. We are inclusive of residents, ratepayers, community members and interested parties. As a collective, we believe that having a Special Housing Area (SHA) in Ihumaatao will not contribute to making Taamaki a liveable city, but destroy one of the few significant and unique historical, cultural, spiritual, social and environmental spaces we have left in Auckland.”

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