12 Jun 2017

Māori struggling to find land for urupā

12:28 pm on 12 June 2017

The demand for land in Auckland is putting pressure on one of the city's oldest marae, which is desperate to find space to bury its dead.


A file photo of a cemetery: The burial grounds at Pukaki in South Auckland have reached capacity. Photo: 123RF

The urupā, or burial grounds, at Pukaki in South Auckland has reached capacity, and its iwi is worried it will not have space for a potential haul of ancestral remains.

Between 2008 and 2009, the remains of more than 80 Māori ancestors were unearthed in developments at Auckland International Airport.

Te Ākitai Waiohua and marae chair Karen Wilson said the kōiwi were buried at the urupā but there was no more room left.

"We are at a stage where [there are] huge concerns about how to properly inter and bury our people," she said.

And with another runway development for the airport in the pipeline, she said more remains were bound to be found.

"How do we deal with that? Because it is on our whenua and along the coast so we have huge responsibility and we feel that."

It is crucial for Te Ākitai Waiohua to find land for a new urupā within its territory, but it will not be easy.

Ms Wilson said the area was quickly becoming more urbanised with major roading projects ahead.

"There is [the] housing crisis and that, but where do you lay your head when you have finished your time here on earth?

"That will be why it is hugely significant."

Ms Wilson said it was Māori custom to be buried, not cremated.

Meanwhile, the volcanic rock beneath the Māngere Piriti Urupā - another burial ground - means it is too difficult to dig new graves for tūpāpaku.

Māngere Piriti Urupā

The Māngere Piriti Urupā's problem is the volcanic rock under its soil. Photo: Raymond Sagapolutele

Urupā committee chair Kaanga Skipper said they were having to stack bodies of relatives on top of one another and it was with a heavy heart that some whānau were being turned away.

"I'm here in Māngere all my life and I know that I would be anxious to know that I won't be up there," she said.

"My parents are up there, my brothers and sisters are up there, my husband is up there, and I am not going to get there. I'm feeling very anxious about that."

The kuia said nearby land should be made available to iwi for new urupā.

Iwi in Wellington and Invercargill also struggling

In Wellington, a local iwi is doing earthworks in the rugged Makara landscape to set up an urupā called Opau.

Taranaki Whānui kaumātua Morrie Love said two urupā in Upper Hutt were full and despite Makara being 40 kilometres away from there, it was the best location it could get.

"Land values in Wellington are just about as high as in Auckland and it is incredibly difficult to just get anywhere," he said.

The land for Opau was set aside for Taranaki Whānui ki Te Ūpoko o Te Ika in its Treaty settlement in 2009.

Mr Love said some people might not have ties to the land at Makara but finding suitable space for an urupā was an issue for everybody.

"I think we are lucky that that has been part of the settlement and it gives us some options."

Waihōpai rūnaka head Michael Skerrett said it took 10 years of wrangling with the Invercargill City Council to find the right spot for a new urupā.

Then a man who lived nearby made a complaint so they went to the Environment Court, he said.

"He stirred up people that didn't even live nearby ... it was just ridiculous," the kaumātua said.

"Some people that go for walks there did not like the idea of having that next door, well those tracks through there can't even see it."

The rūnaka won the court case and about five years later, in 2013, the urupā was opened.

Mr Skerrett said despite being a long and frustrating process, it was worth it because local Māori loved having an urupā in Invercargill.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs