Auckland City creeps further out in every direction every single day. But on the edge of the Manukau Harbour and five minutes from the airport, Ihumātao has so far resisted urban development.
The land was confiscated by the Crown in 1863. Although many of the occupants were displaced and impoverished, some hapū members have continually occupied their land since they first settled. Ownership has passed through private hands since 1867.
Now this land has been designated for urban development and sold to Fletcher Residential Limited. Fletcher want to build a subdivision of 480 houses on Ihumātao.
Pania Newton is one of the people leading the campaign to return the land of Ihumātao. She turned away from a career in law to dedicate her life fully to the cause of protecting the land of her ancestors. They set up base in 2016 and have been working ever since to educate and lobby. Pania has taken the cause to the United Nations three times and the United Nations have called on New Zealand to reevaluate the housing plans.
Now after three years—and with development due to start very soon—the hapū is taking an urgent petition to the steps of Parliament.
“We’re asking the Government and Auckland Council to intervene and purchase the land to return to mana whenua,” says Newton. "To govern in trust for all to enjoy as a cultural and historical landscape. Anei te karanga o ngaa uri o Hape. Matike mai, maranga ake, hei pupuru i te whenua.”
Ihumātao has historical significance to the hapū and to the whole of Tāmaki Makaurau. Newton says that if the development goes ahead, plans for the waste-management system will disrupt their traditional burial sites. “Our ancestors kōiwi [bones] will wash out into the harbour within two years.”
The whenua of Ihumātao also includes the historic Ōtuataua Stonefields. They border the development site and apart from holding burial sites they also have some of Aotearoa’s first cultivated gardens from early Māori settlement.
The petition is the hapū's last hope of appealing to the government before Fletcher Building begins their work in a few weeks. They will take the petition to the steps of Parliament in Wellington, leaving Ihumātao on March 9 and arriving at Parliament on March 11.
“Fletchers have all the necessary legal consents to proceed with their development,” says Newton. “So this is the last means available to us before the mass confrontation of the land.”
You can find the petition here.