Ihumātao 'isn't a Treaty issue' - protest leader Pania Newton

Ihumātao protest leader Pania Newton says a "unique process" will be required to return the land to its rightful owners, as it "isn't a Treaty issue".

A hīkoi from the south Auckland site to Jacinda Ardern's office in Mt Albert is underway Thursday morning, asking the Prime Minister to visit the site, which protesters have occupied for weeks. 

Protest leader Pania Newton said they want to tell her "about the significance and the need to protect this whenua".

"It really speaks to the beginnings of our nation. It's significant to the people here and we think it should be protected for all New Zealanders to enjoy."

The problem is the land was purchased by housing developer Fletcher a few years ago. The company struck a deal with local iwi which saw its original plans dialled back, views protected and some of the homes' ownership shared with Māori. Te Kawerau a Maki called it "better than anything we have ever achieved from Housing New Zealand or the Crown".

The iwi had previously tried to block the development, but had failed at both the Waitangi Tribunal and Environment Court. 

"This isn't a Treaty issue, is what we're arguing - this is a cultural heritage/landscape issue, so it deserves its own unique process," said Newton.

The Government has refused to buy the land off Fletcher, saying that would undermine every previous Treaty settlement, opening them up for relitigation. It's reportedly valued at $36 million, and Fletcher has said it's open to selling, should it be offered "and at or above what we thought was its value".

Newton says a new process is now needed for land that can't or won't be returned under existing Treaty mechanisms.

"This is not a Treaty issue. This is a cultural heritage/landscape issue. Just like other precedents and flashpoints across our national political landscape at this time - for example, we have the issues around Oranga Tamariki and Māori land rights - shows there's a broader systemic failure on behalf of the Government to uphold Te Tiriti o Waitangi and indigenous rights here in Aotearoa."

Pania Newton.
Pania Newton. Photo credit: The AM Show

Newton said the protesters aren't happy with Fletcher's arrangement with iwi, as they don't want any homes being built on the land at all.

"Our immediate resolution is to protect and preserve the land and stop any development of it, and see that the land is returned to the correct owners. The owners would decide then what would potentially happen with the land. 

"But it seems as though they want to hold it in trust for all New Zealanders to enjoy as a historic place. That's the promise made in 2007 when the Manukau City Council tried to buy this land."

That council stopped development, but it was eventually subsumed into Auckland Council, and the land turned into a Special Housing Area.

Newton said she's keen to sit down with Ardern and Chris Finlayson to discuss the possibilities, not appearing to realise Dr Finlayson hasn't been Treaty Negotiations Minister for a couple of years now. 



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