Maori burial dispute hits court

8:37 am on 23 September 2015

A dispute over the burial place of Wiremu Kingi Te Rangitake, who led Maori in the Taranaki Land Wars in the 1860s, is being played out in the Environment Court in New Plymouth.

Greymouth Petroleum wants to overturn a Heritage New Zealand decision denying it permission to begin excavations for its proposed Kowhai D wellsite in the Waitara Valley.

The application was declined after the Otaraua hapu told Heritage New Zealand a "significant ancestor" was buried in the vicinity of the proposed well.

It said any development in the area would impact on the integrity of the cultural values associated with the burial site.

Greymouth Petroleum said it was appealing the decision because Heritage New Zealand in its own report acknowledged the development "will not directly impact on the burial site" of this ancestor.

It also argued the site did not meet the definition of an archaeological site under the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act because the Kingi is said to have been moved to the site after 1900.

Although Wiremu Kingi died in Kaingaru, inland from Waitara, in 1882 aged over 90 some people believe his body was moved after his death because of fears his enemies would seek utu on him by desecrating his grave.

Greymouth's expert witness historian Buddy Mikaere today disputed whether the grave, whose precise location has not been revealed, was actually near the proposed well site.

Mr Mikaere said there was little evidence King's body had been moved from Kaingaru after his death.

He argued Kingi was a baptised Christian in a time when Christianity was widespread amongst his Maori and Pakeha enemies so there would have been little appetite for utu in the traditional sense and therefore no reason to move his remains.

"I can't see why people would have wanted to desecrate the old man's grave," he said.

Mr Mikaere said even if the body had been moved why was it still not possible to say precisely where the burial site was so Greymouth could work around it.

"Not revealing the precise location of the grave is not understandable in this day and age."

Earlier the counsel for Heritage New Zealand had sought to discredit Mr Mikaere's evidence saying he was an undisclosed bankrupt whose advice tended to support his paymasters.

Judge Brian Dwyer said Mr Mikaere's financial status had nothing to do with the credibility of his evidence.

The hearing continues tomorrow when the chairman of the Otaraua hapu Rawiri Doorbar is expected to give evidence.