Ihumatao - a peaceful protest

160 years after it was first confiscated by the Crown from Maori, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has stated and reiterated that government will not be involved in the battle to halt the development of Ihumātao next to the Ōtuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve in Mangere by Fletcher Building who purchased the land from descendants of the landowners that the Crown gave it to all those years ago. A peaceful group, known as SOUL - Save Our Unique Landscape- have been occupying the land in a bid to stop the housing development since 2016, this week the protesters were served eviction notices.



Ihumātao was home to New Zealand's earliest market gardens and is a significant archaeological site on land considered wahi tapu (sacred) by local hapū and iwi before it was confiscated under the New Zealand Settlements Act in the 1860s, thus breaching the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi agreement.


It was sold to Pakeha settlers and was a privately-owned farm for the last 150 years, before being bought by Fletchers in 2014 who designated 32 hectares, as a Special Housing Area (SHA) for development.


It would appear that there is a generational divide at the heart of the ongoing battle to stop the housing development.


The SOUL-led protesters, with mana whenua SOUL co-founder Pania Newton and her cousins at the helm, want the land returned to iwi and oppose the development because of Ihumātao's historical significance.


SOUL also objects to the housing development being so close to the Ōtuataua Stonefields, a Māori heritage site and historic reserve.


However Kaumātua and Maori wardens were encouraging the “unlawful occupants” to leave the site saying Ms Newton and her cousins were disrespecting their elders by not moving.


On Tuesday those occupying the land were served an eviction notice, reports RNZ, which led to a stand-off between police and protesters. About six people were arrested for passing police cordons or causing disruptions, there have been other arrests since as tensions run a little high.




Despite the arrests the stand-off has been largely peaceful as SOUL continues to gain support, with supporters turning up with supplies, food and able bodies to help protest.


SOUL co-founder Qiane Matata-Sipu has been reported saying the fight was relentless and it was about recognising Aotearoa's history and not making the same mistakes again.


Highlighting injustices against Māori, who continue to feel the sting of colonisation.


"It's too hard to continuously fight, and as Māori and as your treaty partner, we should not have to. This isn't a issue about housing this is an issue about Māori and indigenous rights."


Word continues to spread garnering widespread support from the public with many likening the dispute to the occupation of Bastion Point in the late 1970s.


SOUL, who delievered a petition with 20,000 signatures to Parliament this year, have urged the Government to either buy the land – valued at about $36 million – or mandate a process for an outcome "everyone can live with".


Newton has also presented the group's case to the United Nations in Geneva and New York.


A committee report said Fletcher Building had not yet set a start date for construction, but had said development would begin "soon".


"The petitioners maintain that the site needs to be protected for its historical, cultural and archaeological value, and preserved for future generations," the report said.


"We also acknowledge the situation at [Ihumātao] is complex – there are competing rights and interests to the land."


The select committee concluded by urging "all stakeholders to work constructively together".



Auckland councillors on Thursday voted unanimously to try to facilitate discussion between Fletcher Building, Māori groups with sometimes conflicting views on the land's future, and others.


Thursday's council meeting was told that a previous attempt by Mayor Phil Goff to broker discussion had failed as several of the iwi groups involved with the development plans had strongly resisted.


After that meeting, members of SOUL said they considered the council move a positive one, but were cautious.


"We need serious intervention, we don't need discussions at tables, we need someone to take leadership in this space," SOUL member Jacqueline Paul said.


The Green party have put their support behind the protests, with co-leader Marama Davidson speaking to a large rally in support in Wellington. Another rally, organised by Ihumātao Solidarity Ōtepoti, will take place in Dunedin today.


As it stands there are about 300 protesters to about 100 police officers, protest leaders urge those arriving to support that the protest is first and foremost a peaceful one and to be mindful of that.