Battle for Ihumātao: Balance shifts as 300 protesters outnumber 100 police

12:43 pm on 26 July 2019

The heavy police presence at Ihumātao shows little sign of abating four days after they arrived, but they are now outnumbered three to one by protesters.

People continue to occupy Ihumatao after protesters were served an eviction notice which led to a stand-off with police.

People continue to occupy Ihumatao after protesters were served an eviction notice which led to a stand-off with police. Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

More than half a dozen people were arrested last night attempting to block the road to the airport 3km away.

Since being evicted on Tuesday morning, the SOUL (Save Our Unique Landscape) group leading the campaign has called for peaceful protest with aroha.

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Some were initially openly hostile towards the rows of police - who then outnumbered the protesters - standing shoulder to shoulder, but there are now about 300 protesters under the eye of roughly 100 officers.

The lines of police have spread out, there are gaps, and people like Rae Nordstrom can be seen talking to officers over the invisible line spreading across the adjoining field.

Police at Ihumatao on Wednesday evening.

Police at Ihumatao on Wednesday evening. Photo: RNZ / Tom Furley

"I was having a good conversation with that officer around the deficits of Oranga Tamariki and government departments and attitudes like that," she said.

"Think we had a really good conversation because at the end of the day it's all about our people, whether you're Pākehā, Māori, or whatever. He was great, he had a good sense of humour, not here to look down on people."

She was one of many who had travelled to be a part of the movement, coming from Cambridge.

"Whakapapa-wise I don't connect to this land but I'm here to tautoko the people that do connect to this land because we've all got a responsibility regardless of where we come from."

Ms Nordstrom took part in the Māori land march more than 40 years ago, and next week she's off to protest Oranga Tamariki's practice of taking Māori newborns into state care.

"It's important, it's a thing you call in Māori kanohi kitea, in other words being seen do be doing things, being seen to be active.

RNZ reporter Meriana Johnsen was there in the early hours this morning, and said the group that were blocking the motorway last night was a breakaway group.

"My understanding ... is it was a breakaway group from Organise Aotearoa, a group of young people between 20 and 26, so I'm unsure yet whether there will be protest action here and from this sole group today."

She said many more people were expected to arrive by bus from Ōpōtiki and the Far North today, and the throngs of people could grow further over the weekend.

"We're here in Māngere, we're quite central ... so no doubt with people off work we may see numbers swell as we see people from all around Tāmaki Makaurau and Otautu to come and support.

"There are some concerns I've heard from some people about ... as more people arrive how they're going to control the group of people so we may well see more breakaway protests as we did last evening as the protest progresses.

There had been no sign of Te Warena Taua, the kaumātua at Te Kawerau ā Maki, or other kaumātua from local iwi or the Kīngitanga who arrived with police on Tuesday to help evict the protesters, she said.

"I spoke to Te Warena a couple of days ago, he said he was staying well clear as were the other kaumātua - they were worried about their safety so there's been no sign of them here at Ihumātao.

As the sun went down last night one of the leaders reminded people the police were "not the enemy, it's the people paying their wages - let them do their job".

Protesters and police at Ihumatao.

Protesters and police at Ihumatao. Photo: RNZ / Tom Furley

It's a sentiment seemingly well understood and police yesterday evening acknowledged the demonstrators for their peaceful approach, but for many there's an inescapable bemusement at the amount of resources being poured in.

"I've seen more police cars down the bottom of the street than I've seen in the last five years that I've lived in this country," one supporter John, said.

"I think this is going to cost a lot more than solving the problem would cost in the end."

Qiane Matata-Sipu

Qiane Matata-Sipu Photo: supplied

Police said their role was to uphold the law and ensure there was no breach of the peace while also respecting the public's right to protest. There are no details of how many officers have been involved or an estimate of cost.

SOUL Campaign co-founder Qiane Matata-Sipu is a direct descendent and resident of Ihumātao and said the police presence was "a bit of a waste of resources for starters".

"I also find it really interesting that the government and the council continue to say that there's no money to put into Ihumātao but there seems to be a lot of money to put into keeping the police here at Ihumātao.

"Should they want to divert those funds as a deposit to Ihumātao, it might be money better spent."

So far the government has said it would not get involved, but Auckland Council committed yesterday to organising an urgent meeting between the interested parties.

"It was really great to see Auckland Council have made a step. A step is always better than standing still," Ms Matata-Sipu said.

"It's really important that the voices that have been unheard for so long can be heard. It will be vital to ensure that the process is tika, and is pono, that the process is fair, that the process doesn't already have a determined outcome before we get into it, and that there is a willingness for all parties to sit and not just kōrero but to listen."

Everyone had to come to the process open and willing, she said.

"What we want is to come up with a solution that everybody can live with, not just a solution that some people can live with and others have to live with."

More busloads of people are expected to arrive today as the standoff enters its fourth day.

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