Matakana Island visitors are being disrespectful and dangerous. Māori have every right to protest.

Blockades barring people from using a wharf on Matakana Island in the Western Bay of Plenty have drawn the ire of visitors and tourist operations, with some accusing local hapū of “taking the law into their own hands.” Tauranga Moana local Graham Cameron defends their kaitiakitanga and challenges views on land use and ownership.

I was over on Matakana Island for a wedding. On our drive from the wharf to the venue, we nearly ran into Uncle Bobby at an intersection. As all concerned were travelling at about 30 km/h, all stopped safely and the only one who looked surprised was Uncle Bobby’s dog in the front seat who was rudely awakened by the unexpected stop.

Uncle Bobby has made a bit of splash in the national media after the wharf at Panepane on Matakana Island was blockaded recently with barbed wire and debris. A sign declared the wharf the boundary of tribal lands and told visitors to “Bugga Off.” Our Uncle Bobby had put his name to the protest.

The explosion of abuse that followed the protest and the desire of the council to play it all down is par for the course for the whānau who live on Matakana.

Most Tauranga people couldn’t give two hoots about the challenges and aspirations of the people who have occupied the island for centuries, but when you tell Pākehā they can’t use the island when they’re out boating because they’re leaving a mess? Well then those uppity Māori have started a fight.

Matakana Island is a long thin island that protects Tauranga harbour. One third of the land is farms and orchards and the other two thirds forestry. Five hapū are associated with the island: Te Whānau o Tauwhao, Te Ngare, Ngāi Tamawhariua, Ngāi Tauaiti, and Ngāi Tuwhiwhia. There are three marae: Opureora, Kutaroa and Ōruarahi.

Panepane is on the southeastern end of the island, near the channel between the island and Mauao. This harbourside is popular with recreational boaties and kayakers who often stop at the wharf or on the beach, which has golden sands and an easy, gentle swell.

The problem at Panepane is there are no services: no toilets; no rubbish bin; no visit from council workers; no warden.

I’ve been there a few times. I’ve seen human shit in the bushline. I’ve seen bottles and rubbish lying on the sand. I’ve seen evidence of fires.

I was talking to Uncle John who had driven form his whare to Panepane last week and found embers still alight on the beach that he and his whānau then doused. The beach is about 10 to 15 metres wide and bordered by dry, dry pine trees.

It’s not just disrespectful, it’s dangerous.

The only people monitoring Panepane are the locals. They pick up the glass and the rubbish. They cover over the shit and make sure the fires are put out properly. The council may have rushed the day after the protest to do all of that, but it was PR opportunity, not the beginning of a regular provision of services.

I think a lot of the disrespect has its roots in what we think land use and ownership is.

When our Pākehā ancestors came from Europe, they brought a view of land use with them. Ordered fields, regular crops and stock, carefully planned towns, architecture for the nuclear family, state institutions and businesses. A dominated, domesticated environment over which humanity are stewards and masters.

When they arrived, they assumed that the land was unused and unproductive because they didn’t see any of the things they associated with land use and ownership.

But tangata whenua have quite a different view. If our relationship with the land and sea is healthy and functional, the land and sea will in turn will protect us. So we moved seasonally with the change of seasons; we took what we needed for today and left the rest for our mokopuna. Our architecture was rarely permanent. We couldn’t own the land, because the land was our ancestor. A wilderness of provision in a living environment whom we served and protected.

Unfortunately quite a few people in Tauranga look at Panepane and think it is unused and unproductive. Their behaviours on the beach imply their view is that it’s neglected, so they neglect it.

When we, the people of Tauranga Moana, look at Panepane, we see a living island that formed and nutured our people. Like us, it is true that Matakana and Panepane itself have suffered abuse and bear the scars in the environment. But despite it all, Panepane remains for us a place to access kai, a place to tell the story of our moana relationships and a place of recreation and exercise.

As to the outrage? Well, Kewpie Cruises may claim the protest is an “act of aggression” from a “few bad apples.” They may claim our whanaunga call out racist insults to tourists. They may say our whanaunga are “taking the law into their own hands.” Facebook commentators can threaten violence and the removal of services. They can all complain it’s not “Māori land” and the “public have a right.”

What they all miss is that Matakana Island is not a resource. Matakana Island has a life that is beyond its utilty. Because they can’t understand that, they can’t be trusted to look after the mauri of our island.

I’m glad Uncle Bobby and others made a stand. In all the council’s talk about development plans and business talk about ‘rights’, it’s only our Matakana Island whānau who are attempting to fulfill their obligation to protect the mana of the island.

It has been noticeable that on social media and in reporting, the people of Matakana Island have been almost unerringly patient, polite and clear about their concerns. This protest doesn’t come from a place of rage; it comes from a desire to ensure the island is there for our future generations to enjoy.

Nā reira, kia kaha aku whanaunga, ngā rau rangatira o te moutere o Matakana.


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