Occupiers at Ihumātao remain strong in mud, rain and wind

10:11 am on 12 August 2019

Occupiers at Ihumātao are holding firm, on the back of a huge number of donations coming in from right around the country.

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A new footpath for the main entrance at the Ihumātao protest site. Photo: RNZ / Jordan Bond

On Sunday those on the front line were persevering through the rain and storm, to protect the land, supported by the generosity of those who couldn't be there.

Mussel fritters were doing the rounds when RNZ arrived. Someone had dropped off a big bucket of mussels, and the kaimahi were cooking them up.

The spirit of giving runs right through Ihumātao.

Stephanie Tawha, who is managing donations, the koha, from all over - schools, businesses, and supporters, said in the last hour they received meat, clothing, tools, tarpaulins, tissues, blankets, lemons and honey.

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Stephanie Tawha is managing donations of gifts to help occupiers at the Ihumātao site. Photo: RNZ / Jordan Bond

The list goes on and the donations keep coming - 100 sets of gumboots are on their way, and a pig from Northland. They now have two full sheds of items.

"One's full of cosmetics - towels, shampoos, soaps, toothbrushes. The other one's clothing, seats, blankets," Ms Tawha said.

"I'm just astounded. It's really made me think differently about our country and what an amazing place it is."

Ihumātao is now a small village running smoothly with food rosters, information tents, gas cookers and a mobile cafe making coffees.

Ma Te Haere was chopping wood with an axe - in his words to keep the people warm, the stories flowing, and the songs being sung. Someone had just arrived with a trailer load.

"No money has changed hands, it's all been koha'd. The wood, the food, everything. That's how much love people have for this place."

Everywhere you walk people are just helping out, getting stuck into a job - repairing a tent or fixing a walkway. One woman, Jontelle, says most people are keeping busy during the days.

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Jontelle is among the occupiers at Ihumātao. Photo: RNZ / Jordan Bond

"Building a village is the short answer. I think of it as the Kaitiaka Village extension, while they're temporarily closed due to unforeseen circumstances," she said.

"Anyone who needs a hand, you'll see someone you've not met yet help you put your things up, and two hours later you find out you're cousins."

After some ok weather earlier in the occupation, the last few days have been constantly rainy and windy, and parts of the field are now thick with mud. A lot of tents are cobbled together with sheets of wood acting as windbreaks, and tarpaulins sitting over the top for protection against the rain.

Solomon October is a builder by trade and is at the whenua as often as possible.

"I just help wherever people need help. Always stuff to do, it's just like camping. The place needs to be maintained and cleaned. You just make do with what you have."

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The main marquee at Ihumātao. Photo: RNZ / Jordan Bond

Some people turned up with only the clothes on their back, and donations have kept them going.

"Blankets have been one of the things we didn't really think about, but have been very valuable," said Qiane Matata-Sipu, one of the co-founders of Save Our Unique Landscape. "And toilet paper," she laughed.

Jontelle says the wairua, the spirit of Ihumātao, is strong and has left an impact on her.

"The people keep everyone buoyant. You look around, there's always a kia ora, a hello, some help. There's always a reason to keep going and not just give up and pack up and go home, where there's wi-fi and crap," she said.

"It's beautiful, actually. However this ends it'll be shame I think. I don't know if I'll experience anything else like this in my lifetime. I hope so. Very humbling experience. I think I'm very, very lucky to be here."

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