Pania Newton on the whenua at Ihumātao. Photo: Nicole Hunt

What does it take to build an indigenous resistance movement?

He Kākano Ahau is a podcast by writer and activist Kahu Kutia (Ngāi Tūhoe) that explores stories of Māori in the city, and weaves together strands of connection. In this episode: Ihumātao and a new generation of resistance.

It’s an interesting time to be indigenous. Or is that what every generation says? Every day when I open my phone I see a new reason to be angry, to be disappointed, to believe that humanity is headed down a slippery path into climate destruction.

Mauna Kea, Djab Wurrung, Unist’ot’en, Standing Rock. Four examples in a never-ending stream of indigenous struggles to protect significant whenua. In Aotearoa, Ihumātao is the latest in a long line of iconic Māori resistance movements. The resistance at Ihumātao began when 32 hectares of land in Māngere was designated as a Special Housing Area and purchased by Fletcher Building. This was land originally stolen by the Crown. Six cousins formed a movement to protect their land, a place of significance to the culture and heritage of Aotearoa.

The paepae at Ihumātao. Photo: Nicole Hunt

A friend of mine recently shared an observation of the world. She said she felt that the universe is calling our generation out. For so long we have admired the work that our elders did for us, the land march, Bastion Point, foreshore and seabed. She said to me that it seemed the universe is telling us its our turn to stand up for our beliefs.

When police issued an eviction notice to protectors at Ihumātao, I was a ball of anxiety for two straight days. Thinking back on what my friend said, I knew the only way I might be calm again was to visit Ihumātao myself.

We all turned up to the whenua with berets and statement shirts and flags in solidarity with mana whenua who want their land returned to them. The waiata Rua Kenana rang out across the land over and over again. I watched as very idol I ever had in te ao Māori   came and went from the whenua .

While this struggle has constantly been painted as generational, the reality on site is that the resistance at Ihumātao is supported by whānau from all generations of the local hapū as well as kaumātua at Makaurau Marae.

Dawn breaks at Ihumātao over the land protectors. Photo: Nicole Hunt

Thousands of supporters from Aotearoa and the world have been hosted at Ihumātao in the time since. Ihumātao has become more than a Māori issue. For those who protect the land, Ihumātao is also a health issue, a wellbeing issue, a climate change issue, a heritage and culture issue, a human rights issue.

This episode is about what it takes to build an indigenous resistance movement. I spent time at Ihumātao before and after the eviction notice was served to protectors. Pania Newton, who has become the face of this struggle, was honest with me about the tolls of fighting for her whānau land:

“Seeing our whānau return back to their whenua and feel empowered to reclaim our tino rangatiratanga and our whenua has been a highlight for me. Watching our tamariki and our mokopuna walk across this land which is something I never got to experience when I was younger because it was always in private ownership, that too has been a highlight for me.”

He Kākano Ahau is a podcast written, researched, and hosted by Ngāi Tūhoe writer, activist, and young person Kahu Kutia. Kahu now lives in Wellington after spending the first 18 years of her life in the valleys of Te Urewera. 

Listen to the entire He Kākano Ahau series here.

Made possible by the RNZ/NZ On Air Innovation Fund. Produced for RNZ by Ursula Grace Productions


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