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Tangata Whenua removed from Ngawhal protest

Press release

The idealism of a Crown / Maori relationship must be Questioned.
Tangata Whenua removed from peaceful protest at Ngawha

June 30, 2003

Since late last year Tangata Whenua and supporters have maintained a peaceful vigil on land adjacent to the proposed prison site at Kaikohe. Today, Police removed those people who stood in representation of a nationwide network of supporters including a significant proportion of Maori, the local Ratepayer Association, a Pakeha Support Network, MP's, Legal teams, Entertainers, and Educators who have publicly voiced their support toward a stance of "No Prison at Ngawha".

The struggle to build and sustain the Crown's understanding of the issues has been difficult and has not been helped by the constant 'changing of the guard' which has seen the Correction's hot seat filled by 4 different Ministers in the last 4 years. The disjointed appointments of Robson, Gosche, Wilson, and now Swain, have undermined the resourceless, dispossessed group's attempts to maintain dialogue and to debate and discuss the Crown's amorphous rationale for building the prison at Ngawha.

This view was highlighted recently by unfounded comments made in the House by new Minister for Corrections, Paul Swain. The Minister acted upon propaganda to 'justify' the removal of the group. He claimed a fire started at the site to commemorate the horrific arrests of a year ago was in breach of a recorded agreement which accepted the Tangata Whenua's right of protest on the site. Although, a prison guard called the fire service, the fire itself was entirely lawful and no other disturbance was registered. Officials have publicly stated that they knew little about the details of the incident.

Such action illustrates the desperation of Correction official's to remove Tangata Whenua. It has long been known by protest supporters that a 'beautification project' aimed at covering up the public dissention to the prison has been in the pipeline for the last 3 months.

While leaving the site peacefully today, Thomas Dalton spokesperson for the group has advised that they will be taking instruction from Te Taumata Kaumatua o Ngapuhi (Ngapuhi's council of elders) to determine future action. In accordance with the Agreement struck between the Department of Corrections, Police and Te Taumata, the Police have until now recognised the authority of that agreement. The Northland policing team had on a number of occasions tried to convince the Department to enter into conciliatory processes. This approach was in response to the commonly used threats by the Department's agents to remove the group.

The inequity of Crown dealings toward Ngawha serves to question the idealism of a Crown / Maori relationship. The tokenistic and callous approach to understanding and valuing that which is essential to everyday life as Maori, continues to fall to ignorant and unqualified ears. It is not only the inequitable processes but the vacillating rationale for the prison that compounds an entirely unsatisfactory situation;

1. · The Ngawha site is geologically active rendering the site unsuitable for major construction. The presence of corrosive gases means high ongoing maintenance costs.

2. · The site, originally a lakebed is also alive with geothermal activity. An army of earthmoving machinery has been at work for an astonishing 18 months, no viable building platform has yet to be completed.

3. · The activities on the site are causing the release of mercury into major waterways and tributaries in the North. This would effectively kill the ecological state of those rivers and embankments. Areas in which local hapu are dependent upon for food and sustenance.

4. · Estimates for the foundation of new prison alone have risen from $80 million to $137 million.

5. · Officials had prepared a list of 84 preferred sites in Tai Tokerau, which did not include the current site.

6. · Northland Regional Council declined resource consents at first instance. This was overturned using the significant resources available to the Department.

7. · On appeal the Environment Court accepts the cultural evidence of a Maori consultant from the Bay of Plenty over the evidence of Dr Pat Hohepa and Dr Cleve Barlow, reputed Ngapuhi kaumatua.

8. · Crown processes imbue divisionary tactics in a highly selective consultation process.

ENDS

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