There are few things better to do than watch The Hui on a Sunday morning, but this week’s episode was especially spicy. Leonie Hayden on an amazing appearance by Auckland Nimby activist Lisa Prager.
The protesters opposing Ōwairaka’s native regeneration programme have been camped out at the maunga for two weeks now, believing that the Tūpuna Maunga Authority’s plan to fell 345 exotic trees is unfair to existing wildlife. The random array of residents, whose shared interests include not being Māori and having lots of time on their hands, agree on the idea of native regeneration, but argue that they know far more about how it should be carried out than approximately 50 experts.
Who better to communicate that to the world than Lisa Prager, the cowboy-hatted, sledge-hammer wielding Auckland activist, in an interview with the quiet assassin of New Zealand media, Mihingarangi Forbes of The Hui?
If you had any shadow of a doubt as to their credentials, a ten-minute piece on Sunday’s programme showed once and for all that the Ōwairaka protestors know what they’re talking about. Here are the highlights.
When Prager referred to controlled tree-felling as a ‘gruesome massacre’
Concern for your environment is, obviously, a nice, normal thing to convey, as is referring to the cutting down of mature exotic trees as a gruesome massacre. No one wants to see tree guts all over the place or hear their terrified screams. The trees to be removed include privet, monkey apple and banksia, but will be mostly large eucalyptus, many of which are currently posing safety risks such as the one that fell across a road last year. Presumably concerned residents held a candlelit vigil for the fallen eucalyptus and demanded an investigation into its death. If a tree falls on a maunga and no outraged residents are there to hear it, is it a council conspiracy? Makes you think.
These decisions have been made with no regard to the environment
“[The trees] provide habitat for insects and lizards, and for them just to remove them without any regard for that, we find totally abhorrent,” says Prager, after saying she basically agrees with the native regeneration programme.
I was as surprised as you to hear that the Tūpuna Maunga Authority had made the decision to fell the exotics and plant another 13,000 native trees without any regard to the birds, insects and lizards of the area. Aside from the independent reports from ecologists and arborists, assessment by Auckland council experts as well as the full backing of the Tree Council and Forest & Bird. It’s like they didn’t even try.
The head of Tūpuna Maunga Authority, Paul Majurey, also says that as part of the conditions of resource consent, “trees with any nesting birds have been identified and won’t be touched”.
No regard whatsoever!
There may be bats on Ōwairaka
“Just because you do not like exotic trees, does not give you the right to steal from the native birds, insects and lizards, perhaps bats.”
As everyone knows, it’s a bad idea to steal from a bat. They have hang ups about their dead parents, and access to limitless funds and weapons.
Felling the trees will fast track climate Armageddon
When asked if the decision should be considered final because Tūpuna Maunga have authority on behalf of all 13 mana whenua iwi in Auckland, who own Auckland’s volcanic cones, Prager made the salient point: ‘but climate change’.
“No, because we share this planet. And when that decision was made, Auckland Council had not declared a climate emergency. We share this planet and it’s important that we debate very carefully right up until the last moment what is the justification, the truth and the correctness of this action.”
You can’t argue with climate change really. It’s as inevitable as enraged Nimbys putting their considerable time and resources into protecting a handful of exotic trees instead of say, lobbying against fossil fuel production.
Majurey later hints very heavily that they are also happy to respectfully debate right up until the last moment, when the protestors will be respectfully pushed to one side and the regeneration programme will respectfully go ahead regardless.
She’s Pākehā but also mana whenua!
At around the six-minute mark, Forbes makes a shocking accusation: “But you’re not mana whenua”
“What makes you say I’m not mana whenua?” Prager replies.
“Well… are you mana whenua?” Forbes asks, uncertainly.
“I came here in a waka like everyone else. I grew up in the bush. I grew up understanding when the kauri spoke, what it was saying. I learnt as a child the very nature of how our country functioned.”
Ah, the definition of mana whenua that means ‘a human that is on or near land’. Embarrassing, really, that one of our foremost Māori investigative reporters wasn’t aware of that particular interpretation.
For all Prager’s shocking revelation that she can understand trees, she offers little insight into what the trees on Ōwairaka are saying about the situation. Perhaps it is mostly swearing and therefore not appropriate for morning television.
The law ‘n stuff
“I wasn’t here 100, 200, or 500 years ago… that I know of!
“But when I arrived in this land, like all immigrants, I had a choice. I could inflict my will upon this land or live within this land’s reality. Remember this is a fantastic game of white man. My law is this law. But you didn’t know about that law, but this law trumps that law.”
It’s hard to know where to start with this one. I understand all the individual words and yet its meaning is either too complex or too stupid for me to comprehend. All I can think about is what a terrible Christmas present Game of White Man would make. And how I find it very easy to imagine Prager as the ghost of a cowboy that has haunted Mt Albert for 500 years.
It hasn’t escaped Forbes’s eagle eye, though, that defying both New Zealand law and the unanimous wishes of iwi seems a tiny bit like inflicting your will on the land.
“But isn’t that what you’re trying to do Lisa? You’re trying to trump your law on somebody else’s law?”
Prager is genuinely shocked to be asked this question. Or maybe just amazed Forbes understood her last answer. “No!” she says. Because yada yada yada it’s for a “just cause”.
It’s just like the Holocaust
As an immediate follow up to the “just cause” defence, Prager plays a card against which there is no possible counter-move. “As a Jewish person… you know, no one stood up when they were being marched to the concentration camp. I’m sorry to have to say this, but that’s why when I see an injustice I will step up.”
She waited to the last minute to pull this trick out of her giant hat, but she did and nothing will ever be the same again.
Also, I hope Taika Waititi has clocked there’s other Jewish tangata whenua out here doing God’s work. Jojo who?
Click the image to watch the full clip on Newshub