18 Sep 2019

Mana whenua reach decision on Ihumātao land

5:46 pm on 18 September 2019

The Māori king, Kiingi Tūheitia, says mana whenua have finally reached consensus over what to do with Ihumātao - they want it back.

Protest banners at Ihumatao

Protest banners at Ihumātao last month. Photo: Nicole Hunt

The announcement was made this morning, with Kiingi Tūheitia Potatau Te Wherowhero VII saying he had successfully guided mana whenua of Ihumātao to a unified position.

"Mana whenua agree they want their land returned, so they can make decisions about its future," he said.

"Kiingitanga has conveyed the views of mana whenua to the government and urged it to negotiate with Fletchers for the return of Ihumātao to its rightful owners."

King Tuheitia - pictured at Turangawaewae in August 2016

Kiingi Tūheitia says mana whenua representatives have reached a unified position on Ihumātao. Photo: RNZ / Shannon Haunui-Thompson

The land near Auckland Airport has been occupied by members of the Save Our Unique Landscape (SOUL) group for almost three years to oppose Fletcher Residential from building 480 houses there.

But the occupation ramped up on 23 July after police served occupiers with an eviction notice. Since then thousands from across the country have flocked to the site and hundreds have camped there.

After growing public outcry, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stepped in and put a halt on development until a decision was reached about how to proceed.

The Kiingitanga initially signalled its support for the Fletcher development, having negotiated with Fletchers to return eight hectares of the 32-hectare site.

But on 3 August, Kiingi Tūheitia visited Ihumātao and invited all mana whenua to meet to find a solution. These hui excluded government officials and Fletcher development.

"Although the land has remained occupied, mana whenua representatives have engaged in good faith discussions under the cloak of Kiingitanga and have reached a unified position on Ihumātao.

"Mana whenua agreed the return of the land is outside of the Treaty of Waitangi settlement process and therefore requires an innovative and modern solution that does not financially disadvantage iwi."

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Sundown at Ihumātao.

Hundreds camp at the contentious site. Photo: RNZ / Jordan Bond

The Crown confiscated the land from Māori in 1863, and it was sold to Fletchers in 2016. Typically, the government will not negotiate the return of land in Treaty settlement if it has moved into private ownership.

Earlier reports have priced the land at about $40 million.

Kiingi Tūheitia said they acknowledged the prime minister's early intervention in the dispute, and the support for Kiingitanga to facilitate negotiations with mana whenua to find a way forward.

"It is important that the government prevents any further alienation of the people from their land, while discussions are underway."

'It could still be housing'

Rahui Papa

Rahui Papa Photo: Supplied

Kiingitanga spokesperson Rahui Papa said he felt heartened that mana whenua had reached a unified position.

"After a number of weeks of discussions, actually there is a kaupapa, and the kaupapa is to return the land to the rightful owners of Ihumātao."

He said there was a varied and diverse range of opinions about what should happen with Ihumātao, but the catch-cry is for the land to be returned.

Mr Papa said when the Kiingitanga initially supported the Fletcher development, a lot of whānau had been talking about wanting housing and papakāinga.

"Throughout the stages, actually the King took the pulse of the people, had a bit of a listen to the wants and the needs, and this is about returning the land for the mana whenua to make the determination on what happens with the land.

"It still could be housing; it still could be heritage; it still could be a number of options."

Mr Papa said the iwi would not rule out developing the land, or buying it back themselves - but he said that would be for those who whakapapa to the land to decide in due course.

"Nothing is off the table. There is still a lot that needs to be discussed, but the first kaupapa was actually to decide what the catch-cry was, and to put that to the government."

'Time for government to start playing the game'

SOUL member Qiane Matata-Sipu said to have this consensus and to have it supported by the Kiingitanga movement was "the best outcome, for us, that we could have sought from this process".

"The government needs to now work with Fletchers to have this land returned. This is not a Treaty settlement issue; this must have an innovative, creative approach to finding the solution on how it's going to be returned."

She said there was money that Auckland Council and the government could put towards this kaupapa.

Qiane Matata-Sipu

Qiane Matata-Sipu Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

She said the SOUL group hoped Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern would visit and that the invitation still stood.

"Jacinda said she was waiting for this process to come to an end, and for the king to find the solution. That has now been sorted, it is time for the government to start playing the game."

Ms Matata-Sipu said council and Crown were both responsible for the current situation.

"I do know the council has $1.8 billion over the next 10 years for open space. If they were to go 50/50 with the Crown it's only 1.5 percent of that budget. They should be taking a stand here."

She said Auckland Mayor Phil Goff and his rival John Tamihere, who was running for his seat, should also make a statement.

"Having the land returned to mana whenua allows mana whenua to determine for themselves the future of Ihumātao ... allows us to thrive and not just be in constant survival mode," she said.

But she couldn't say what the fate of the land would be.

"We're not discussing the future of the land.

"The reclamation will continue until the land is safe."

Winston Peters

Winston Peters Photo: RNZ / Ana Tovey

In a press release earlier on Wednesday, Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters said the government was pleased to hear that mana whenua were working constructively together towards a solution.

"We thank Kiingi Tūheitia for his work on this, the intention of the prime minister in seeking for the work on the land to stop was for the Kiingitanga to play a facilitative role."

"We have always said that we are happy to join the discussions on the future of the land at Ihumātao," he said.

"As we go through the process we are mindful of heritage claims, precedent issues and the commercial interests in the site. We look forward to discussions that involve all parties to find a resolution to these matters."

However, when approached by reporters at parliament this afternoon, Mr Peters was dismissive of the role government had to play.

He said there had already been a Treaty settlement and that the issue was still in the hands of the Kiingitanga, not the government.

"There would have to be one extraordinarily high benchmark for the government to be involved and hitherto we do not see that benchmark," he said.

Tāmaki Makaurau MP Peeni Henare said now mana whenua had reached a decision it was time for everyone to sit around the table.

"From here on out, now the mahi starts, in terms of the government's perspective," he said.

National says Fletchers should retain land

The National Party is demanding the government immediately rule out negotiating with Fletcher Building over the ownership of Ihumātao.

National's leader Simon Bridges said Fletcher Building legally owns the land and should be allowed to get on and build houses on it.

He said reopening the iwi's settlement will bring into question all other final Treaty of Waitangi settlements.

Mr Bridges said the prime minister should never have waded into the dispute in the first place.

In a statement, Fletcher Building said it agreed to put construction on hold six weeks ago to allow time for discussions between the government and iwi to take place.

It said it was disappointed that they had not produced a resolution, and would be seeking an urgent discussion with all parties.

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