Māori elders offer support for Ōwairaka / Mt Albert tree protection group

Honour The Maunga formed a blockade in November.
Honour The Maunga formed a blockade in November. Photo credit: Newshub.

Elders from local iwi have sided with an environmental group pushing to protect hundreds of exotic trees on Mt Albert, in Auckland.

For months, Honour The Maunga, a protest group made up of local residents, has been fighting a decision to fell 345 exotic trees on Ōwairaka / Mt Albert.

The Tūpuna Maunga Authority, a co-governance body comprising local iwi, Auckland Council and the Crown was set to begin felling the trees in November last year in order to make way for native species. 

The trees currently on the site include olive trees, gum trees and monkey apple trees.

The Tūpuna Maunga Authority plans to replace those species with thousands of native trees. But representatives from Honour The Maunga formed a blockade to stop them doing so, saying it would have a severe environmental impact for the many birds and insects that live in the area.

In a statement issued in November, the authority said that before consent was granted, it undertook several rounds of Auckland-wide public consultation concerning the move. 

On Monday, Anna Radford, spokesperson for Honour the Maunga, said a powhiri was held over the weekend where kaumatua of Ngāti Whātua and Tainui descent expressed support for the group's mission. 

"It was a true honour to be formally welcomed, supported and to receive validation for our own deeply-held spiritual connections with Ōwairaka," said Radford. "These connections and beliefs very much align with the Māori spiritual beliefs shared with us during this weekend's wānanga. There are always going to be a range of opinions on a significant issue such as this, but the longer we stand in support of Ōwairaka and her trees, the more support we are getting from all quarters."

The powhiri took place after a meeting to discuss the maunga was called by Pouroto Ngaropo, chairman of Ngāti Awa Ki Te Awa O Te Atua, Te Tāwera Hapū.

The hapū of Ngaropo is descended from Wairaka, from whom the maunga is named.

"We are spiritually there to look after and protect the mauri of the mountain, which is named after our ancient ancestor Wairaka who lived there more than 800 years ago," said Ngaropo. "This involves protecting the maunga's flora, fauna and all its lifeforms."

He said he hoped an agreement could be found which respected the mountain.

"I encourage the authority to find a way of achieving its goals in a manner that respects the maunga and her environment and fosters positive and constructive partnerships with all communities."

The offer for Honour the Maunga to attend the powhiri was extended by Martin Cooper, descendent of Te Kei O Te Waka O Tainui / Ngāti Whātua, and Rangi McLean (Mataatua / Tainui).

Chair of the Tūpuna Maunga Authority, Paul Majurey, said the authority respects the right of individual expression, but "care needs to be taken with personal opinions being equated with the position of the relevant iwi authorities".

Majurey noted that despite the comments from Ngaropo, "the mandated iwi authority for Ngāti Awa subsequently confirmed its support for the authority’s plans."

"It is noted that all three rōpū (Ngāti Whātua, Waiohua and Marutūāhu ) comprising the 13 iwi groups in the collective Treaty of Waitangi settlement over the 14 Auckland maunga have representatives on the Tūpuna Maunga Authority and were part of the decision-making process to restore the native ecology at Ōwairaka / Te Ahi-kā-a-Rakataura / Mt Albert," said Majurey.

In a statement last week, Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Awa said it "supports tangata whenua to make the best decisions for their taonga, lands and waters in their rohe, and we are open to discussions with appropriate iwi entities on this matter".