Ihumātao – Where does the blame lie?

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Nā te Perehitini, Prue Kapua

“Ihumātao is not a clash between kaumātua and rangatahi. It is a clash between those exercising kaitiakitanga and those who have learned to live with compromise”.

It is intriguing to see how quickly the public perception of the issues around lhumātao have focussed on its effect on Treaty settlements and a split between kaumatua and rangatahi. Neither are relevant.

lhumātao has nothing to do with Treaty settlements with the Crown. The land in question was never part of any Treaty settlement. That fact does not detract from the significance of this land to Maori. Whether any land is part of a Treaty settlement is dictated by the Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975 and, since 1993, s.6 (4A) has precluded the Waitangi Tribunal from recommending the return of privately owned land or acquisition by the Crown of privately owned    land.

The current situation at lhumātao arises because of the interpretation of the provisions of the Resource Management Act 1991 by the Environment Court. In 1991 the Resource Management Act was seen as the beginning of a new era where Maori values and concepts, as well as Treaty principles, were embedded in the purpose and principles of legislation that dealt with matters of significance to Maori – ancestral lands, water, sites, waahi tapu, taonga and kaitiakitanga. And the Treaty principles identified early on included good faith, active protection and consultation. In reality, the Resource Management Act and its interpretation by an institution that reflects the majority culture has resulted in disappointment for Maori for the last 28 years.

That lhumātao is significant to mana whenua and to Maori is not in dispute. Manukau  City Council and the Auckland Regional Council recognised that fact in 2007 through district and regional plans designating the land as open space and therefore unable to be developed. This was done in recognition of its significance to Maori as well as to all New Zealanders and its relationship to the adjoining Otuataua Stonefields.

The landowners did not agree and challenged the Council decisions through the Environment Court seeking to rezone their land for urban development. At the hearing in 2011 and 2012 Makaurau Marae and Te Kawerau lwi Tribal Authority opposed any urban development on lhumātao and the evidence presented to the Court was clear that historically, culturally and spiritually this land was significant to mana whenua and Maori generally and was waahi tapu. There was no contradictory evidence presented. Even the historians and landscape architects accepted the evidence given by Maori witnesses. The Court in its decision acknowledged the special significance of the land to Maori and its historical significance to all New Zealanders. However, despite there being no evidence to support the position, the Court decided that the significance of the land to Maori could be accommodated within urban development. In essence the Court set aside specific provisions reflecting Maori values and concepts, that were recognised by local authorities, in order for a landowner to realise an increase d economic return. Such a decision reinforces the claims of institutional racism exercised by those with decision making power. And it reinforces the inequity whereby Court processes favour those who can afford to challenge Council decisions by lodging proceedings.

And that Environment Court decision in 2012 paved the way for the slippery slope of proposals for intensive urban development as a Special Housing Area on lhumātao. A collaboration between Auckland Council and the Government in 2014 that fast tracked processes and left those opposed with few options for challenge.

What lhumātao exemplifies though is the challenge we all have as kaitiaki. There is no question that some Maori can live with a compromise and approach situations like lhumātao on the basis that because everything is stacked against us, we have to try to get what we can given the circumstances. But that approach runs counter to being kaitiaki. The very essence of kaitiakitanga is an obligation to those who have gone before and to those who are yet to come – to our tūpuna and to our mokopuna. It is not a choice, it is a commitment we make to do all we can to protect our lands, our waters, our sites, our waahi tapu and our taonga for those who come after us. And that is what drives those at lhumātao who have been camped on the land since 2016.

lhumātao is not a clash between kaumatua and rangatahi. It is a clash between those exercising kaitiakitanga and those who have learned to live with compromise.

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