Calls for council help as extreme weather erodes sacred Māori burial grounds

Marae Trustees are asking councils and the Government to recognise the damage being done to sacred burial grounds as a result of climate change.

With around 80 percent of marae built on low-lying coastal land or flood-prone rivers, many Māori grave sites, also known as urupa, are at risk.

Charles Huia's whanau are all laid to rest at Puketāpapa Urupa in Māngere.

"All my family," he says, "from my great-grandfather right down to my father and mother."

At 80 years-old, the former grave digger has serious concerns for the future of the burial site, with the tidal river beside it undermining the land.

Mr Huia, a Puketāpapa Trustee, said it hurts to see damage to the urupa and the riverbank occurring so rapidly.

Coastal marae are increasingly at the mercy of rising tides and changing weather patterns, and now some are calling for councils to take some responsibility.

Huata Māori Climate Change Commissioner Donna Awatere says marae are trying to save their property but it's a costly effort.

"One of the Marae in Wairoa got a quote to move their urupa and it was $250,000," she said.

"Hawkes Bay Regional Council is giving $150,000 to move a playground, and is giving nothing to move the urupa."

For the past two summers, Maraetai in east Auckland has been hammered with severe flooding.

Only a road separates Umupuia Marae and its ancient urupa from the sea.

Some Marae trustees say they've had discussions with Auckland Council and Auckland Transport about trying to protect the road from erosion, but have had little response.

In Puketāpapa, Mr Huia says his urupa is in desperate need of a retaining wall.

"I am very worried, I'm very worried... once it's gone, it's gone."

He fears not only for this precious, sacred burial ground, but for all the others around New Zealand.


Contact Newshub with your story tips: