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Pania Newton, front and centre of the protectors at Ihumātao. (Photo: Jess Thompson Māori Mermaid)
Pania Newton, front and centre of the protectors at Ihumātao. (Photo: Jess Thompson Māori Mermaid)

ĀteaDecember 19, 2020

The truth about Ihumātao: All the false claims and misinformation, corrected

Pania Newton, front and centre of the protectors at Ihumātao. (Photo: Jess Thompson Māori Mermaid)
Pania Newton, front and centre of the protectors at Ihumātao. (Photo: Jess Thompson Māori Mermaid)

For years now, people who should know better have been spreading misinformation about Ihumātao. Now that a deal has been made, it’s time to set the record straight on some of these repeated falsehoods.

Didn’t ‘the iwi’ sell the land in the first place?

Nope, the block of land named the Ōruarangi block was stolen by the government in 1865. The 81 acre block was then granted to the Wallace family in 1867, who sold the land to Fletcher Residential in 2016.

The block was part of more than 1.2 million acres of confiscated land, stretching from Auckland through King Country under the New Zealand Settlements Act, that allowed the confiscation of land belonging to any tribe who were judged to have rebelled against the Queen’s authority. This breached the Treaty of Waitangi. At Ihumātao, 1,100 acres were confiscated. 260 acres were eventually restored to Māori deemed not to have engaged in acts of ‘rebellion’ against the Crown. Ihumātao is stolen land.

It will undermine existing Treaty settlements!

Ihumātao has never been subject to a previous Treaty settlement, therefore buying this land will not undermine any settlement. The final deal hasn’t been made through Treaty settlement processes, in the same way that the acquisition of the adjacent stonefields wasn’t, which were also stolen Māori land. They were purchased from the landowners by the Ministry of Conservation in the 1980s.

The Treaty settlement process, which offers meagre compensation to Māori in comparison to damage done and land taken, is safe and sound.

Won’t this mean that every full and final settlement could be reopened?

Again, Ihumātao has never been part of any settlement so there’s nothing to reopen.

Also, someone who belongs to an iwi or hapū group that have had a Treaty settlement still has the right to bring up future grievances against the Crown.

What if this creates a precedent for Māori to start occupying land elsewhere?

Māori have been occupying land as a form of protest for ages. If you hate the idea of it, I’m sorry to tell you: it’s nothing new. Think of occupations in the 1970s like Bastion Point or Raglan Golf Course. Both occupations led to Māori getting their stolen land back. Occupying space has been a common form of protest and cause for social change throughout history. For example; the sit-in movement protesting racial segregation in the USA or the feminist sit-ins throughout New Zealand protesting men-only bars and restaurants in the 1970s.

Isn’t this an infringement on private property rights?

No one is going to walk into your house and claim it as theirs. In this case, the government was asked to intervene at Ihumātao long before Fletcher Residential bought the land. The council, the government and the Wallaces had the opportunity to do the right thing ie sell the land and return kaitiakitanga to mana whenua, say for a park or reserve – but they chose not to. The rezoning of the land and consequent sale by the Wallace family to Fletcher was legal, but not just. All the Protect Ihumātao movement have tried to do is put pressure on those who could have done the right thing but didn’t, to do so now.

The government is paying Fletcher $29.9 million for the land, which is more than $10 million more than what they bought it for. They’ll be fine.

When Ngāti Whātua o Ōrākei closed their marae, which is private property, to the public during lockdown this year, they endured complaints and breaches by neighbours who were ‘annoyed’ they couldn’t use the marae as a shortcut. Weirdly, people like David Seymour, who have been so vocal about protecting Fletcher’s private property rights, were silent. Perhaps private property rights only take effect when Pākehā own land.

Soul is just a heritage protection group run by Pākehā radicals!

Soul, now named Protect Ihumātao, was founded by six cousins who whakapapa to Ihumātao. While it has included tauiwi supporters, the group has always been led by mana whenua .

Didn’t mana whenua agree to the Fletchers development in the first place?

Who mana whenua are for a piece of land is often complicated. At Ihumātao, whānau of Makaurau Marae and the papakainga never agreed to the development. They are mana whenua and have always been against development.

It is important to note that although iwi Te Kawerau ā Maki did have an agreement with Fletcher and the iwi executive chairperson Te Warena Taua spoke out against the occupation, Te Kawerau ā Maki originally fought to stop the sale from the Wallace family to Fletcher Residential. When they lost in the Environment Court they attempted to compromise with Fletcher instead – essentially, trying to make the best out of a bad situation.

Isn’t this just a case of young vs. old?

The myth that the Ihumātao protest was at its heart a split between young and old was repeated by the media, and much of this was because of the assumption that Te Kawerau ā Maki kaumātua Te Warena Taua represented the views of all kaumātua. There are Māori who disagree with the occupation, that’s true, but this is because Māori aren’t a homogenous group. Protect Ihumātao has always had the support of local kaumātua and kuia.

As Prue Kapua has said: “lhumātao 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.”

The site isn’t even historically significant!

There have been claims that it’s the stonefields next to the site that are historically significant – but not the block bought by Fletcher Residential. This is not true. Ihumātao is one of the first places that Māori in Tāmaki Makaurau settled more than 800 years ago. Before being confiscated, the fertile land, including the land on the block bought by Fletchers, was used for gardening by local Māori. Later, huge quantities of food and wheat were produced on the land and sold on to Pākehā settling in Auckland. According to historian Dave Veart, this is where Māori learnt to grow wheat. He told NZ Geographic: “It is the only remaining major piece of land adjacent to a stonefield system in Auckland, and it spans the complete history of Māori food production from the land… this is the only place we’ve got all of that on one site, and it provides a buffer to one of the most delicate, complex archaeological landscapes in New Zealand.”

In fact, earlier this year Heritage New Zealand announced it had extended the borders of the Ōtuataua Stonefields reserve in Māngere to include the Ōtuataua block. In February the area’s status increased from category 2 to category 1 – the highest listing available.

It’s a waste of our tax dollars!

In the invasion of Waikato, 1.2 million acres of land was confiscated. It was prime, fertile land that supported a thriving Māori economy. The confiscation meant displacement and poverty for Māori while the Crown and many Pākehā farmers and property owners benefited financially from the land over the last 150 years – the price paid by the government to buy the land off Fletchers this week is next to nothing in comparison.

To put this in perspective, Fletchers received $68 million from the wage subsidy while cutting 1000 jobs and reporting before-tax earnings of $227 million over the four months that followed. In August they reported a loss of $196 million for the previous financial year. The company currently holds $1.1 billion in cash and liquid assets.

Keep going!