Maori angry as burial site dug up

By Jared Savage

The buried remains of 85 bodies have been exhumed by construction of the second runway at Auckland Airport - angering local Maori whose ancestors were unearthed.

The airport company first discovered koiwi - skeletal pre-European remains believed to be more than 600 years old - in March last year.

An archaeological report of the findings has been sent to the Historic Places Trust but members of the Makaurau Marae, in Mangere, say the desecration of waahi tapu must stop.

Marae spokesman Saul Roberts said that Auckland International Airport Ltd was shown burial sites in the proposed second runway "before a spade was put in the ground".

The airport company was granted authority by the Historic Places Trust to go ahead with the $32 million project, so any remains accidentally dug up could be removed.

"One or two or three was okay. But 85? Our people are very upset about this," said Mr Roberts.

The airport company notified Mr Roberts when several koiwi were found in March last year. The remains were blessed by kaumatua and reburied.

However, a further 80 skeletons have been uncovered in the past 12 months - and Mr Roberts says the Makaurau Marae was never told by the airport.

Instead, the airport was consulting nearby Pukaki Marae on behalf of local iwi, but Makaurau was not informed.

Attempts to contact a spokesman for the Pukaki Marae were unsuccessful.

In a written statement, Auckland Airport spokesman Richard Llewellyn said the company had followed appropriate consultation steps in regards to the archaeological investigation.

"We have been liaising with all the appropriate parties, and we have been guided by the wishes of local iwi, who have until now strongly indicated they regard this as a private and sensitive matter."

However, more than 50 members of the Makaurau Marae, a hapu of Tainui, attended a joint meeting of the Manukau City Council and Auckland Regional Council to voice their outrage last week.

Kaumatua Te Warena Taua told the panel that the treatment of the tangata whenua was "shocking".

"Just yesterday, more bones of our people were turned up. We told the airport, 'Don't go there, our ancestors are buried there'," Mr Taua said on Thursday.

"Nine of our kaumatua have died in the past three months. This is a sign that things are not good."

The two-day hearing at the Auckland Town Hall was for submissions opposing a Manukau City proposal to change the district plan.

Under the plan change, airport company land would be rezoned from rural to urban, to allow for further expansion of commercial activities.

This would mean extending the Metropolitan Urban Limit (MUL) and requires ARC as well as Manukau City approval. In a submission to the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance, the airport company referred to the MUL extension and said the lack of "greenfield" space for development was holding the city back economically.

The Makaurau Marae opposes the proposed district plan changes.

"For us, this plan change cannot go ahead. They've dug up 85 here. If the plan change goes ahead, they'll dig up another 1000 or so," Mr Roberts told the Weekend Herald.

Acting on behalf of the marae, barrister Rob Enright told the hearing panel that the matters raised by tangata whenua were of national importance and outweighed the commercial demands of the airport.

Any decision made by the joint ARC-Manukau City Council panel is likely to be appealed to the Environment Court.

The koiwi remains are being kept in a freight container on-site and an archaeological report, commissioned by the airport company, has been sent to the Historic Places Trust.

Bev Parslow, of the trust, said the land was an extensive heritage area. She said that Makaurau Marae was listed on documentation as the Maori authority to deal with.

The first stage of the $32 million project is due to be complete by early 2011, in time for New Zealand to host the Rugby World Cup.

- NZ Herald

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