Tensions at the Ihumātao occupation in Māngere, south Auckland escalated last night after a dramatic increase in police numbers.
Hundreds gathered at Ihumātao on Monday night as police increased their presence, cutting off the road and refusing blankets to shivering land protectors.
Around 30 officers have been at the whenua since July 23, when a trespass notice was handed to the group occupying the land so Fletcher Buildings could begin construction on a planned 480-house development. Last night the police presence significantly increased, with estimates of the total number of officers ranging from 60 to over 100.
SOUL member and Ihumātao mana whenua Qiane Matata-Sipu told The Spinoff the protest group had been doing their karakia on Monday night when police arrived, blocking the road between the front line and the tent area.
“They put two police cars onto the road and started acting in a really intimidating way.”
Housing researcher Jacqueline Paul arrived on the whenua as tensions were escalating. She said it was disappointing to see the police challenging people on the front line.
“Some whānau had been trying to get blankets, but one officer had stated that no blankets were to be given out. He stated it was part of the trespass order… It was distressing for so much of the whānau because it was very cold and windy, especially for the protectors.”
Video also surfaced of Ihumātao mana whenua Pania Newton falling to the ground. On RNZ this morning Newton alleged a police officer was responsible.
“A police officer ran over and pushed the gate against me and I stumbled onto the ground… luckily enough we were able to take control of the situation and everyone kept peaceful and calm.”
Paul said she witnessed the incident and corroborated Newton’s version of events.
Matata-Sipu said the group had been in talks earlier in the day with police about de-escalating their presence on the whenua. She says it was concerning that the order seemed to come from higher up, especially while these negotiations were ongoing.
“It was very disappointing that the discussions that we had that afternoon didn’t mean anything. We’re working behind the scenes to find a resolution and had been talking with police and then this happened… It put a whole lot of panic and fear into people.”
NZ Police spokesperson Superintendent Jill Rogers said the extra police presence was necessary to stop protestors moving past the cordon to reoccupy the land.
“Despite repeated warnings from police, a large group of protestors attempted to bypass the police cordon. Police attempted to stop those trespassing, but protestors pushed their way past our staff.”
Rogers denied that anyone had been pushed over, and commended the professionalism shown by officers, “despite at times being subjected to verbal abuse, being physically shoved and even in some cases being spat on”.
Auckland councillors Cathy Casey and Efeso Collins released a short statement on Tuesday morning condemning the increased police presence. They said they were concerned this was happening while a resolution was being sought.
“The increased police presence at Ihumātao is running roughshod over the prime minister’s proclaimed desire to enter peaceful and honest talks. The cops need to be told to calm down and back off,” said Collins.
It wasn’t until around 2am that negotiations between SOUL and the police reached a conclusion and a number of police officers stood down.
Matata-Sipu said she was proud of the people on the whenua for staying true to the kaupapa.
“They were all peaceful, positive, singing, and even when they did reclaim part of the road back from the officers, they did so in a very dignified way.”
Now the mana whenua have to work out how to ensure this doesn’t happen again.
“When we left last night everything was peaceful, and coming into this morning we’ll have to have some more conversations about what happened so we can avoid it, especially when we’re in this really critical time of trying to find a resolution.”