District council admits it 'didn't talk to the right people'
A BBC film crew will be on Te Oneroa a Tohe (90 Mile Beach) this week, possibly today, to record a segment for the hugely popular television series Top Gear without impediment from the five iwi of Te Hiku o Te Ika, but the Far North District Council's failure to consult the iwi has generated real anger.
Te Runanga o Te Rarawa chairman Haami Piripi, who also leads the yet-to-be legislated statutory board of management for the beach (part of the iwis' treaty settlement with the Crown), told council and BBC representatives at Ahipara on Sunday that it was inconceivable that the local authority had not understood the proper process.
"Is this all bullshit? Is it a facade?" he asked.
"I thought we were doing alright, so how is it that, after three years of negotiations (involving the council, to form a board of management) someone forgot to involve us?
"I'm sorry for the BBC. They've been brought into this unknowingly. It comes back to the council. How can you have forgotten we have this board?
"A week ago, every Maori in this room was opposed to (filming), but at the end of the day we have to learn to live with each other," he added however.
"I have to warn you though that you still have some hearts to win."
Mr Piripi also expressed disappointment in the police and the Department of Conservation, which had been part of the process. And, like his anger, that disappointment ran deep.
"For years we have been dealing with deceit in some cases, lies in some cases, incompetence and ineptitude in most cases," he said.
"We're not here to be consulted about the beach, we're here to give approval, and that's the way it's going to stay.
Mr Piripi told the hui that Maori had lived in the area since 650AD, and that the first arrival, Kupe, had created Te Ara Wairua, the spiritual path that included 90 Mile Beach, followed by the deceased as they returned to their spiritual homeland. At least seven more waka had followed Kupe, many of those who descended from those waka being present on Sunday.
Te Oneroa a Tohe was much more than a beach, and while the BBC might not have been aware of the protocols, the same excuse could not be made for the council.
"We are half your constituency," Mr Piripi said.
"You work in our communities every day. You employ people to ensure you engage with us properly.
"This really isn't good enough. After 173 years (since the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi) surely you can see us. How do you close off the spiritual pathway of a people? This must be the bottom of the barrel in justice."
CEO David Edmunds said the council had not ignored the iwi "entirely," and had been told what had been done was sufficient.
"Now we know we didn't talk to the right people. We got it wrong. This was very poor judgement on our part," he said.
The remedyMeanwhile, iwi representatives met with the council on Saturday to discuss the consent given to close the beach.
"Our beach isn't just a beach. It's Te Ara Wairua, the spiritual pathway which all our ancestors and departed love ones travel when they leave us," Te Aupouri chairman Raymond Subritzky said.
"We were alarmed after years of explaining this to the Crown, and getting this recognised within our deeds of settlement, that the council failed to engage with us at all."
The council had agreed with iwi to measures ensuring that this would never happen again, however, including engaging with the kaitiaki of the beach, using tikanga Maori as basis of that engagement, and placing a higher priority on the enhancement and protection of Te Ara Wairua.
The council has also been developing a Maori liaison function which the iwi will now help to create in order to meet the needs of the Maori communities across Tai Tokerau.
A new timeframe has been agreed, to bring forward the establishment of the beach management board, which, chaired by iwi, will assume management and decision-making responsibilities for Te Oneroa a Tohe.
"When the BBC come here they will be our manuhiri and we will welcome them as such," Mr Piripi said.
"As far as filming is concerned, the kaitiaki will play their role to ensure a safe environment for everyone. As kaitiaki we would not close our beach off to our people; our kaupapa is about the protection of the taonga and all the people on the beach."