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SOUL stand ready to protect Ihumaatao

Maintaining a watchful presence on the land and engaging in peaceful non-violent direct action is how the mana whenua-led, community-supported Save Our Unique Landscape Campaign will respond to any attempts by Fletcher Building Limited or its contractors, including Dempsey Wood Civil Limited, to begin roadworks on the contested land at Ihumaatao referred to as SHA62.

Fletcher now has a permit to close Ihumaatao Quarry Road from Monday 6 May 2019, allowing the company to start their proposed housing development and cut-off public access to the main entrance of the Ōtuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve.

SOUL has been working to stop this development for more than four years. The contested land, which is part of the adjoining internationally and nationally significant cultural heritage landscape, was confiscated in 1863 from mana whenua who were forced to flee. The Crown gave the land to a settler family whose descendants sold it to Fletcher in 2016.

Despite huge controversy, a glaring lack of infrastructure, and its Chief Executive stating in the media on many occasions that the company is open to offers on the land, Fletcher now plans to push ahead with developing a special housing area on the site. Steve Evans, Fletcher Building's residential and development division chief executive, recently stated to the New Zealand Herald (on 3 May 2019) that the company could soon begin works.

In his statement he said public notices had been issued and all approvals granted. He went on to say that exact details were still being worked through, however their plan was to begin development soon.

SOUL remains focused on protecting the land from imminent destruction but will do that in their own unique way. SOUL supporters will continue to plant maara (gardens) and produce kai (food) to share, host wānanga (workshops), welcome manuhiri (visitors), offer a cup of tea, and give guided tours.

“Expect to see the vibrant presence of SOUL supporters enjoying whānaungatanga (relationship-building), practising waiata (songs) and having fun doing Zumba fitness or salsa dance classes,” said SOUL co-founder Qiane Matata-Sipu. “If someone grazes themselves, one of our two registered nurses in our first aid caravan will be on hand to tend the wound and apply a bandage.”

SOUL have met with the Police a number of times over the past four years and will maintain that transparent approach.

“We have nothing to hide,” says co-founder Pania Newton. “Our kaupapa remains the same; we’re responding to the call of our tūpuna to protect the whenua for future generations, forever.”

The stakes are high for mana whenua whose ancestors trace back more than 700 years.

“Our identity, wellbeing and survival depend on our relationship with this continuous landscape. Fletcher’s development threatens our wāhi tapu (sacred lands), our maunga (volcanoes), our ancestral burial caves, our river, and our harbour,” explains Matata-Sipu. “Ihumaatao has suffered enough and given enough for the greater good of our city. We will work for as long as it takes to achieve justice for Ihumaatao.”

Mana whenua, whānau of the papakāinga, and members of SOUL are not wanting to incite a mass occupation unless the circumstances call for it. SOUL is still working hard to exhaust all options to prevent confrontation on the whenua.

At the crux is a struggle over which interests will prevail. Fletcher has its eye on making profits for foreign investors. SOUL wants the land protected for all New Zealanders.

But Fletcher face strong, widespread opposition. SOUL recently presented a petition with more than 20,000 signatures to the Government and Auckland Council asking them to intervene.

“It’s time for the Government and Auckland Council to take responsibility for the injustices that have occurred at Ihumaatao. There are many options to get Fletcher to exit this deal and for the Crown to work with mana whenua to preserve the history, culture and spirituality of this beautiful place,” adds Matata-Sipu.

During a recent press conference (on 14 April) Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, responding to questions on Ihumaatao, said she expected proper consultation to occur with mana whenua on sites where there are Māori interests. But so far this hasn’t happened, despite a high-level United Nations Committee issuing a recommendation on 25 August 2017 that challenged the Government to take action to ensure proper consultation with all affected Māori.

“A failure to properly consult mana whenua groups right from the beginning is at the heart of the whawhai (struggle) going on here,” explains Matata-Sipu. “The land was unjustly taken from our people but nothing has ever been done about it.”

Ihumaatao is the ancestral land of Ngaati Te Ahiwaru, Te Waiohua, Ngaati Rori, Te Aakitai, Waikato-Tainui, Ngaati Mahuta and Ngaati Tahinga, but these groups have been shut out. Fletcher has repeatedly said that it is working with Te Kawerau a Maki, which it describes as ‘the’ iwi who has mana whenua status over this area. But Te Kawerau a Maki’s own Treaty settlement document outlines that West Auckland is their tupuna whenua (ancestral lands) and within that document, there is very little mention of Ihumaatao.

“Fletcher continues to ignore the interests of iwi and hapū who have strong, enduring, legitimate, recognised and centuries-old ties with Ihumaatao,” said Matata-Sipu. “Our people expect to be properly consulted about, and included in, all decision-making processes on this matter.”

Minster of Housing and Urban Development Phil Twyford recently suggested (at the same press conference with the Prime Minister on 14 April) that the parties get around the table and work out a solution. But the Minister doesn’t seem to have yet comprehended that the Crown is major player in this debacle and must urgently intervene.

In a letter to the chief executive of Dempsey Wood on 3 May 2019, that was copied to central and local government politicians, Fletcher chief executives, and the NZ Police Commissioner, the co-founders of SOUL concluded:

“This story, like the story of Takaparawha Bastion Point, will be recorded in our nation’s history books. We encourage you to ensure that your Company is on the right side of history. Our country and planet can no longer tolerate development at any cost. The price of destroying the precious New Zealand cultural heritage landscape at Ihumaatao is simply too high and unacceptable. We won’t let this happen.”

SOUL has advised the Government and Auckland Council and Fletcher and the Police many times that our only purpose is to #ProtectIhumātao from destruction through non-violent direct action. On 3 May 2019 Fletcher wrote to SOUL, directing those currently living on the whenua as kaitiaki to leave the land and take all their belongings. A similar proclamation was issued once before, in 1863.

“Following the 1863 proclamation our people had no choice but to flee,” says Newton. “We think of them every day and the suffering they endured. We will not leave the whenua exposed to destruction. We will remain here until an outcome is achieved that will begin to heal the heartache in this land.”

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