Those opposed to the clearing of exotic trees from an Auckland maunga say it is not a "Māori versus Pākehā issue" and want to prove that with a "unity" hui this weekend.

The Tūpuna Maunga Authority (TMA), which co-governs the city's 14 tūpuna maunga (ancestral mountains), plans to remove 345 exotic trees from Ōwairaka/Mt Albert and plant 13,000 natives as part of a long-term restoration project.

But a group of protesters have occupied the maunga since November 11, preventing contractors from starting what was meant to be a month-long job.

The group, Honour the Maunga, say they support the long-term vision of restoring native trees and cultural elements to the site, but not the mass clearing, with concerns about impacts on biodiversity and non-Māori heritage of the area.

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An Auckland couple filed for a judicial review of the project in the High Court, delaying any work until after a hearing scheduled for March 20.

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A hui, running from Friday to Sunday, will mark two months since protests began, and is held in partnership with members of Bay of Plenty iwi Ngāti Awa, which has links to the maunga through ancestor Wairaka.

During a previous hui, hosted by the TMA, protesters were criticised for disrespecting mana whenua and being culturally insensitive.

Independent Māori Statutory Board (IMSB) deputy chairman and former MP Tau Henare called protesters a "bunch of woke, entitled, Pākehā".

Hui organiser Pouroto Ngaropo, chairman of Ngāti Awa ki Te Awa ki te Atua, said treating it as a "Māori versus Pākeha issue" was "shameful".

"Back in time all of us – people, trees, birds and everything - ultimately came from the one source.

"From a te ao Māori perspective, the planned action is deeply wrong because all trees give life and come from Papatūānuku.

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"Removing hundreds of trees all at once from Ōwairaka, and thousands more from other Auckland maunga, will harm the environment and – ultimately – the people."

Iwi spokeswoman Mereana Hona said they were not claiming to be mana whenua, but saying they had a "spiritual and cultural connection" through the maunga's namesake Wairaka, who had lived on the maunga.

"We feel there was an obligation for us to be consulted, and we were not. Wairaka is our ancestor, and we want to ensure we have the right to talk on her behalf, that we do not support this."

Hona said the hui was open to all interested parties.

"We'd love other iwi to come along and share their history too."

To host an event on the maunga, classed as of more than 50 people, a permit is required from the TMA.

Hona said this was a "gathering", and not an event. "We can't control how many people turn up," she said.

Honour The Maunga spokeswoman Anna Radford said the hui would demonstrate the "unifying potential of creating a constructive, equal and environmentally-sound partnership between Māori and non-Māori alike".

Despite the protests, the TMA's plans have drawn widespread support, including from environmental groups the Tree Council, Forest & Bird and Generation Zero.

The Herald has been unable to contact the Tūpuna Maunga Authority about this weekend's hui.

Other mana whenua representatives approached by the Herald declined to comment.

Background

The city's 14 tūpuna maunga were transferred to the mana whenua tribes of Auckland in a 2014 Treaty settlement.

They are managed by the Tūpuna Maunga Authority, made up of six iwi representatives, six Auckland Council representatives and one non-voting Crown representative.

The authority is independent of the Council and has decision-making powers and functions.

Majority of the city's maunga were important Māori pā (settlements), making them separate from other parks and open spaces in that they were wāhi tapu - sites of immense spiritual, ancestral, cultural, customary, and historical significance to mana whenua.

The tree removals are the latest in the wider restoration project to replace hundreds of exotic trees on the city's maunga with 74,000 new native trees and shrubs by 2021, to "restore the mana".

In March, 150 trees were removed from Māngere Mountain/Te Pane o Mataoho/Te Ara Pueru, in April 112 trees from Ōhuiarangi/Pigeon Mountain, and last year a two-year removal of 100 pine trees began on Maungarei/Mt Wellington.

The aims of the city-wide project were to reconnect native ecological networks within and between the 14 maunga and the wider landscape, and also improve the sightlines.