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September 9, 2019 | by  | in News Te Ao Mārama | [ssba]

Toitū te Whenua, Toitū te Tangata


The protection of our taiao is paramount—it always has been and should always remain so. Whenua provides nourishment, grounding, and unity. It is an integral part of the Māori identity. Our ties to our land are an indescribable attachment. It gives physicality to our bonds with ātua, tūpuna, and mokopuna. Land is living legacy.


I had the opportunity to spend almost a week on the whenua of Te Ihu o Mataoho in late July. It was simultaneously one of the most empowering and heartbreaking experiences of my life. If the peace appears fragile, understand it is as unmoving as the kaitiaki holding fast to passive principles embodied by Te Whiti o Rongomai, Tohu Kākahi, and many more rangatira in Māori history.


News media has created a divisive narrative which has been amplified by various individuals to discourage Māori unifying over the protection of Ihumātao. Kaitiaki actively protecting Ihumātao have been framed as rangatahi pitted against kaumātua. 


Employing this theme of an internal and intergenerational conflict is an attempt to undermine the kaitiaki by suggesting a disregard of tuakana–teina principles, which are fundamental to Māoritanga. 


The reality is that there are rangatahi and kaumātua on both ‘sides’. At the end of the day, the choice to stand up against the development and the choice to negotiate with the developers share the same goal: to maintain the connection to the whenua. 


No one wanted the development to happen, but some felt it was an inevitable blow they would prefer to soften through talks. As the occupation has shown, the risk of standing for more—for what is deservingly owed—may be worthwhile.


Reminder: Words on a page will never measure to an experience in person. If you are able to, visit the whenua.


Ihumātao is a patch of land roughly 33 hectares large, currently being occupied in Māngere, Auckland. Kaitiaki on the land are opposed to construction because of the negative impact it would have on wāhi tapu and the ability for uri to stay connected to the whenua. 


Ihumātao is adjacent to the Ōtuataua Stonefields that make up the Ōtuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve (OSHR). The OSHR landscape is hugely significant because of the archaeological and horticultural insights it provides on some of the earliest Māori inhabitants.


In 1863, the land was illegally confiscated by the Crown and eventually on-sold to the Wallace family who have held it for over 150 years. It was then sold, in 2016, to construction company Fletcher Residential whom intend to build a 480-home housing development on the land.

In 2014, undeterred by the huge local opposition, Auckland Council allowed the land to be rezoned for development purposes. Some council members have since admitted they were ill-informed on the land’s significance and regret supporting the change.


Makaurau Marae Māori Trust and Te Kawerau a Maki Iwi Tribal Authority are the iwi authorities standing as mana whenua of Ihumātao that have engaged in negotiations with Fletcher. Both bodies opposed the initial rezoning but, in 2018, the two authorities redirected their approach from development prevention to development mitigation.


SOUL is the “Save Our Unique Landscape” campaign recognised as an instigating force behind the occupation. They have maintained an opposition to development since 2015.


Contrary to media speculation, SOUL are justified in also standing as mana whenua. Pania Newton (a prominent leader of the occupation) and her whanaunga a part of SOUL’s founding group whakapapa to hapū connected to Ihumātao. 


Following talks, Fletcher agreed to set aside a portion of the homes (40 of 480) for Māori and return 25% (8 ha) of the land as a buffer zone between the development and the OSHR. Note that these talks took place exclusively amongst the iwi authorities’ representatives and neglected other local voices like SOUL’s.


Although the deal may seem generous to an outsider, the reality is a neighbourhood of that size on the site will inevitably lead to the degradation of the OSHR and nearby tupuna maunga Te Puketāpapatanga a Hape. 


The ‘generosity’ of the deal is also overshadowed when set in the context of the Māngere people, who have already sacrificed so much. Any development would feel like a finishing blow.


In late August, Kīngi Tuheitia visited Ihumātao. The Kīngitanga acknowledged the need for resolution discussions and will facilitate talks amongst all mana whenua. 


Fletcher have stated they are prepared to sell the land, if serious offers are made.


The government has tried to remain impartial but their inaction passively supports the development. Jacinda still maintains, despite this stemming from a Crown injustice, that the government should have a minimal role in the resolution process.


It has also been suggested government involvement would undermine treaty settlements, but no exclusive mandate exists over the land so it does not belong in a treaty claim.


Ultimately, no iwi should have to front the cost of a government injustice. 


The first fault was made by the Crown in 1863. The Auckland Council made too many mistakes thereafter in allowing the rezoning, and failing to revoke it. The guilty need to do more to remedy the situation.

Date Event
1800 Two centuries ago, Māori had 8000 ha of volcanic stonefields to cultivate from. Just 160 ha of the stonefields remain now.



The land is:

  • Illegally confiscated by the Crown, breaching Te Tiriti O Waitangi
  • Acquired by Crown grant
  • Sold to private owners—The Wallace family
1900s Tūpuna maunga Maungataketake, Ōtuataua, Puketutu (Te Motu a Hiaroa) and Te Puketāpapatanga a Hape (Pukeiti) are quarried to build the Auckland city roads and airport.
1956 Prior to the Māngere treatment plant’s construction, 25 million litres of industrial waste and nearly 700,000 litres of untreated wastewater are pumped into the Manukau Harbour daily through the Māngere Inlet.
2007 Manukau City Council intends for Ihumātao to be added to the Ōtuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve (OSHR). 
2008 During construction of Auckland Airport’s second runway, bulldozers plough through an urupā and unearth 89 graves. Some remains are estimated to be around 600 years old.
2012 Auckland Council (formerly known as Manukau CC) initiative to make Ihumātao a public space is disputed by the Wallace family in the Environment Court. 

The council is directed to rezone the land for future business/residential development.

Both Te Kawerau a Maki Iwi Tribal Authority and the Makaurau Marae Māori Trust oppose the rezoning. 

2014 Auckland Council approves the land being designated as a Special Housing Area (SHA) effectively reducing legal obligations & fast-tracking the land for development.

The land plot is referred to as SHA62.

2015 Pania Newton (a founder of SOUL), alongside whanaunga and other locals raise concerns and say they will oppose the zoning of the land.
Aug 2015 Close to 200 residents attend an Auckland Council meeting where SOUL present a petition with 4000 signatures calling for the SHA to be revoked.

Still, the council vote against revoking the SHA.

2016 Land is bought by Fletcher Residential—a subsidiary of Fletcher Building Limited

SOUL members begin camping on the grounds.

Dec 2016 Joe Hawke, leader of Bastion Point Occupation, visits Ihumātao in support of the kaupapa.
2017 SOUL make a case with the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

CERD report agrees Māori consultation was not appropriately sought out & recommends the Govt evaluate the plan’s compliance with Te Tiriti and the UNDRIP.

2018 Environment Court decline to overturn the building permissions granted to Fletchers. Te Kawerau ā Maki Iwi Tribal Authority and the Makaurau Marae Māori Trust support Fletcher’s case.
March 2019 Hīkoi to Parliament & delivery of petition with 17,000+ signatures.
April 2019 Hīkoi to Auckland’s Aotea Square where petition with 20,000+ signatures is delivered to Auckland Mayor Phill Goff.
July 23, 2019 Eviction notices are issued to kaitiaki on the land and a few arrests are made.
July 25, 2019 Some Auckland councillors admit they regret signing off on the Ihumātao land SHA zoning.

Auckland CC votes unanimously in favour of organising an urgent meeting between interested parties in an effort to resolve the dispute.

Aug 3, 2019 Kīngitanga visits Ihumātao and offers support in facilitating resolution discussions amongst mana whenua.
Aug 5, 2019 Police presence escalates and kettling tactics are employed to isolate kaitiaki on the frontline. Situation is de-escalated by mid-morning.
Aug 22, 2019 An invitation, carrying “the aroha and awhi of 26,633” people, for Jacinda Ardern to visit the whenua is hand-delivered to her Mt Albert office.



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