What a complexity is Ihumātao, a site of early Maori settlement, confiscated as part of the 1860’s land grab of the Waikato and Taranaki, abused over the years, finally made a reserve, but with an adjoining farm remaining in private ownership dating back to confiscation. Because it was in private ownership it could not be part of the Mana Whenua’s Treaty Settlement. The Auckland housing crisis brings into being the concept of Special Housing Areas where subdivision can be fast tracked and the Council and previous government targeted the farm, which was subsequently bought by Fletchers, keen to get into housing after losing money on commercial developments. There was consultation with Mana Whenua who gave it the go ahead after a sweetener of 8 of the 32 hectares going into iwi ownership and 40 of the 480 houses being reserved as affordable homes for iwi members.
But younger members of the iwi protested at the idea of a suburb being built next to the sacred site – and where does a sacred site begin and end? A 480 house suburb with its infrastructure, mortgages, insurances etc is an intensive development and this will be another car reliant suburb. There is resonance with the original confiscation, but this is where it gets tricky. Treaty settlements always bypass privately owned land, otherwise the Waikato and Taranaki would be up for return, quite justifiably of course, but politically untenable. And the kaumatua agreed. This is where it gets trickier. Traditional leaders willing to collaborate with the coloniser have often been available. Feudal/tribal power structures are not always virtuous or inclusive; yet the treaty was a deal between these power structures and the British government and the honouring of the treaty has to honour these structures and it’s not for Pakeha to question unless some blatant corruption is apparent. And Mana Whenua believe the deal is a good one – they get a parcel of the land in their name (for the first time since confiscation) and some iwi members living there.
Leftish and environmentalist Pakeha are drawn to the side of the young tribal protestors, with the sacred-site, anti-corporate vibes resonating and a line of cops is always a challenge, conjuring up past struggles. The kaumatua don’t seem willing to budge and there is criticism of the protestors trampling on the mana of the elders, but the numbers grow, we haven’t had a stoush for a while and it is becoming an event with a growing celebrity list. Direct action does cut through complexity and confusion. Representatives of the Hawaiian anti telescope movement arrive and it begins to focus on development versus the spiritual desire to leave some places alone. It could be useful to peer into outer space and a Hawaiian mountain top is the perfect spot but it is our sacred maunga. We know there’s a housing crisis but this is a sacred site. Leave it alone. On the Coast there is a similar rebellion by communities over an incinerator proposal. These incinerators seem relatively benign environmentally, better than landfill and the Coast needs economic development, but no one can quite accept the idea of an endless stream of rubbish being burnt in their backyard.
Somewhere, in our heads, is the felt impulse of the need to stop. Just stop for a while. We’ve proved we’re a clever species but right now the clever thing is to stop. There is no technological fix for the problems we’re faced with. We need to listen to the earth, heal and nurture what we’ve got, sing to the gods and have a long look at one another. And out of that might come some different methods of housing ourselves, of feeding ourselves, of constructing society.
How about a papakainga on the land, housing 40 iwi families in a co-operative manner, with some equity in the houses for individual families, but the land owned by the iwi. Add some food growing and out of this might come a model of a different world, paying homage to the past and the future – as the planes fly overhead..