Protesters are occupying the pā site of Mataharehare in the Auckland suburb of Parnell, despite the city being at Covid-19 alert level 3 restrictions.
Occupants have set up tents and erected signage to show their opposition to a proposed Erebus crash memorial at Sir Dove-Myer Robinson Park.
They are being led by Māori community leader Dame Rangimarie Naida Glavish, who says the site is culturally significant and has nothing to do with the Erebus disaster.
However, mana whenua Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei has expressed its full support for the memorial and detailed its extensive involvement in the process.
Dame Naida arrived at the occupied site just after 2pm on Wednesday. She told Checkpoint she had recently sat in silence under the giant, sprawling pōhutukawa tree, which is close to the memorial construction.
"It felt like I was sitting in the arms of my ancestors of 180-plus years ago that walked this whenua. This is Mataharehare, it is a pā."
Dame Naida is from iwi Ngāti Whātua. A hapū of that iwi - Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei - is mana whenua of the area. It had been in consultation with the Ministry of Culture and Heritage on the development of the memorial since October 2018, and supported the construction.
Documents from the Ministry of Culture and Heritage show extensive engagement with Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei, as well as an archaeological report in 2019 that was sent to several iwi groups.
In August 2019, documents show there was also an explanation of the memorial's site and design selection process, with acknowledgement of Mataharehare and Taurarua pā, sent to 13 iwi groups with an interest in the rohe [region].
But Dame Naida said the hapū's approval was effectively meaningless and it was not consulted on some aspects of the project.
"There is no Māori cultural component to the arborist's report, for a start. As well as that I really believe, with the information that's been coming to me, that it was predetermined before any form of consultation might have happened. So they didn't have to actually do much of a consultation. Did the wider Tāmaki Makaurau input into this? Did wider iwi put into this?"
Dame Naida and the protesters issued a statement on Wednesday saying Prime Minister, also Minister of Culture and Heritage, Jacinda Ardern was ultimately responsible for allowing the memorial to go ahead.
"She led it, she knows about it. And I don't know that she was properly informed either," Dame Naida said.
"I've got the greatest respect for our Prime Minister, for the tremendous work that she does do. However I can't let that respect stand in the way of protecting this whenua, Mateharehare pā and this rākau pōhutukawa.
"Why would we give this whenua for that monument when it had nothing whatsoever to do with the Erebus crash?"
'We remain completely in support of this very worthy and long overdue memorial'
But on Wednesday evening, Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei issued a statement, saying: "Since 2018 Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei have been engaged in relation to the progress of the Erebus Memorial project.
"In November 2018, we wrote to Manatū Taonga, the Ministry of Culture and Heritage, to express our support for the project and also for the use of the proposed site which is in the heart of the Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei rohe.
"We have reviewed the archaeological assessments and expert arboriculture reports. The tūpuna pōhutukawa will not be destroyed or affected – this will be retained and protected.
"We made sure that the location of the memorial would not damage the environment or be culturally inappropriate. As mana whenua we will ensure that the works are completed sensitively and are culturally sound.
"Unfortunately, there have been some recent public claims that there will be greater impact on the site and to the pōhutukawa tree than was shared with us through the consultation process.
"As a result we asked for clarification from Manatū Taonga in relation to these claims. This has been provided. We have also asked for those making the claims to provide their evidence. This has not been provided.
"As a result, we remain completely in support of this very worthy and long overdue memorial. What is sadly lost in all of this, are the families of those tragically lost in the Erebus disaster.
"It has been clear to us that there is a campaign being run by a small number to stop the memorial. We have tried to avoid engaging in activities that are part of what seems to be a public relations campaign to stop the project. This statement is to clarify our position, to show our continued support, and will be our final public statement on the opposition to this kaupapa."
Philip Keenan's sister Dianne was an air hostess on the Air New Zealand flight that crashed at Mt Erebus. He said Dove-Myer Robinson Park is the right spot for the memorial.
"I'm absolutely over the moon that it's going there. I could not think of a more appropriate place for it to be, on so many levels.
"I did hear comments when some people were opposing it, but you've already got a memorial there, to the Korean War. Nobody finds that offensive.
"I don't know the size of the structure they're going to place there, I don't know the details on that, but it's an out-of-the-way place, you have to be in the park to observe it. And with the history of aviation in this country, with Mechanics Bay just below it, I could not think of a more appropriate place."
Other family members of Erebus crash victims have told Checkpoint they are distressed at this latest turn of events.
In a statement Manatū Taonga, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage said it had conducted thorough, detailed planning processes in developing the National Erebus Memorial, which has included extensive consultation with iwi and other groups.
“We appreciate Dame Naida’s concern for the environmental and heritage values of the site and have offered to provide her with information about the project to alleviate those concerns.
“The Ministry respects people’s right to different views and peaceful protest. As always, the families of those who lost loved ones in the Erebus disaster remain at the heart of this project.”