8 Sep 2015

Kaitaia airport occupied, flights cancelled

6:49 pm on 8 September 2015

A Maori land protest in the Far North has forced the cancellation of flights in and out of Kaitaia airport.

The airport land is due to become the property of the iwi Ngai Takoto, after the third reading of the Te Hiku Settlement Bill in Parliament tomorrow.

Screenshot from a Google Streetview of Kaitaia Airport

Screenshot from a Google Streetview of Kaitaia Airport Photo: Google Streetview

But protesters from Ngati Kahu - the only one of the five Muriwhenua iwi refusing to settle - have occupied the airport, claiming it was taken from a Ngati Kahu family during World War II and never returned.

Acting Senior Sergeant Glenn Taplin said the protesters agreed to let the 2pm flight leave, but police had now closed the airport until the problem was resolved.

He said there were about 70 Ngati Kahu people gathered in the airport's parking lot, and though the protest was peaceful, police could not guarantee safety at the airport in those conditions.

Mr Taplin said police iwi liaison officers were now trying to negotiate with the demonstrators.

Barrier Airlines said it would bus Kaitaia passengers to and from Kerikeri airport for as long as the protest lasts.

Ngati Kahu leader Margaret Mutu said the iwi had re-possessed Kaitaia airport and it would stay closed until the Government acknowledged its rightful owners.

Dr Mutu said the Government was punishing Ngati Kahu for not accepting its settlement offer.

"I don't think there's any intention to stop the airport operating but the Ngati Kahu owners are not about to let it be sold off, when they have been trying to have it returned for the past 75 years."

Negotiations between the iwi and the Crown reached an impasse several years ago and Ngati Kahu has been to the High Court in a bid to compel the crown to return the land.

Far North mayor John Carter has driven to Kaitaia to talk to protesters. He said the council, which leases the land for the airport, knew the situation was complex and expected to deal with both iwi when the Crown handed the land back to Maori, even if Ngati kahu had not settled.

He said he was hoping the situation could be resolved speedily.

However there are signs Ngati Kahu may be settling in for the long haul.

Chris Galbraith, manager of Far North Holdings, the council company that runs the airport, said the demonstrators had started to build a wooden structure against the terminal.

"They are constructing what looks like a timber frame attached to the terminal building, " he said. "I'm not sure what that represents."

He said most of the 30 to 40 protesters were at the front of the airport with flags, manning the main security gate.

The group includes the Popata brothers, best known for their occupation of the Taipa Sailing Club five years ago, and their subsequent scuffle with Prime Minister John Key at Waitangi.