Ihumātao protest: Winston Peters critical of 'imposters' protesting

The acting Prime Minister says many of the protesters at Ihumātao are imposters without the mana to speak for the land.

At a post-Cabinet press conference on Monday, acting Prime Minister Winston Peters said the Government was taking the views of mana whenua at the Ihumātao site seriously and listening to their concerns. 

Demonstrations have been underway at the Ihumātao site in Auckland's Māngere since early last week, with thousands of protesters flocking to the area from across New Zealand demanding the cancellation of a housing development planned for the site. It came after police presented an eviction notice to allow developers Fletchers to begin construction.

The 480-house development is planned for the area but protesters say the land, which is one of the country's earliest settlements, should be protected.

Members of both sides of the debate say they are mana whenua and have a level of authority over the land.

The leader of the Save Our Unique Landscape (SOUL) movement and the protest, Pania Newton, has family connections to the land. But some local kaumatua support the housing development programme.

On Friday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said parties had come to an agreement that there would be a temporary halt to any building activity until a solution was reached. 

Peters told The AM Show on Tuesday it was a complex issue with a lot of claims about the ecological and environmental value of the land. 

But he said the Government wanted to cut through misinformation and get to the truth by speaking to those who had "kept the land warm all these centuries".

"Let's not have some of the statements by, in particular, people who don't belong there, who have not kept the land warm all these centuries, who are not in authority or do not have the mana to speak on behalf of them, let's not have this sort of media circus," he said.

"I am not blaming you, I am blaming the way it is being presented."

Asked if many of those protesting were "imposters", Peters agreed. 

He said in the "Maori world", if people turn up to protest on land they haven't personally safeguarded or are connected to, they are regarded as strangers and shouldn't be making statements on the land.

Ihumātao protest: Winston Peters critical of 'imposters' protesting
Photo credit: Newshub.

More protesters arrived at the site over the weekend from across the country, with a large social media campaign encouraging participation. There have also been demonstrations in other main cities like Wellington and Dunedin.

Labour MP Peeni Henare said on Newshub Nation in the weekend that every Treaty settlement ever completed could be undermined if the Government purchased the Ihumātao land for use as a public heritage space.

"If the Government steps in to buy this land back, we undermine every Treaty settlement that's been done to date," said Henare.

"We then allow relitigation of settlements that have been done in the past and are we prepared for that? I'll leave that question there."

Ihumātao protest: Winston Peters critical of 'imposters' protesting
Photo credit: Newshub Nation.

Peters said on Tuesday that purchasing the land wasn't on the Government's agenda at the moment. 

"I think that's not even in the contemplation of the Government at this point in time."

The people of Ihumātao were evicted during the Land Wars in 1863 before it was acquired by the Crown, which granted it to Pakeha settlers who farmed it for the next 150 years.   

In 2014, the Government and Auckland Council designated 32 hectares adjacent to the Ōtuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve as a Special Housing Area (SHA). Fletcher Building bought it two years later with plans to build almost 500 homes when protests started and SOUL set up a camp to fight for the untouched land.