COMMENT: It's difficult for anyone who cares about the situation at Ihumātao to write about it in any sensitive yet sensible way, especially for Pākehā whom some folk think should not comment on something that's a "Māori issue".
But it isn't just a Māori issue nor just a dispute over landuse and development; it spills over into being an issue between Māori and Pākehā that in some ways encapsulates not only how this country of ours is made up, but how it could or should be made up.
There are also the geologic and historic values of the land. We are talking about a unique volcanic landscape occupied since the dawn of human arrival, only part of which is publicly protected.
Such complexity opens the door to opinions of all sorts. How do we evaluate whose voices are more valid than whose?
Te Kawerau ā Maki are perhaps most prominent amongst tangata whenua, having occupied Ihumātao since the early 1600s and being related to those there before them. They have long fought for the public preservation of the Oruarangi stonefields in general and the 32ha development site in particular.
Having lost the legal battle against rezoning the land as a "Special Housing Area" under legislation pushed through by National in answer to Auckland's housing crisis, they negotiated with legal owners Fletcher Building to amend the 480-dwelling project as much to their liking as possible.
The outcome brokered would see a quarter of the site – immediately bounding the historic reserve - returned to Māori, plus 40 of the new houses constructed discounted for iwi members together with a financing plan to help them into ownership.
This, Te Kawerau ā Maki claim, is a first for New Zealand: a corporate and an iwi agreeing the return of privately-owned land to mana whenua. Something that should rightly be celebrated, they believe.
But that's not enough for some local rangatahi – younger people – who formed the group Save Our Unique Landscape (SOUL) and lead the current protest aimed at repurposing the whole block to extend the stonefields reserve.
Te Kawerau ā Maki kaumātua find it ironic SOUL wants to gift the whenua to all New Zealanders.
"They do not support iwi development, or our aspirations for the future. Are they really any better than the people who stole the land in the first place?" they ask.
Which touches on the most vexed question in this dispute. Should land stolen in 1863 on a made-up pretext, and for which action the Crown has since unreservedly apologised, be opened up to being returned at all?
Note it doesn't come under Te Tiriti o Waitangi processes because, like many other stolen blocks New Zealand-wide, it's been in private ownership ever since. Treaty settlements can only impact public land.
It's been observed the Treaty is not just a political and legal document, but could be said to encompass a spiritual dimension. If so, a piece of land that has so many high-quality values is the sort of place that spirituality should embrace.
But is there room in our collective consciousness to make an exception that in effect ignores the Treaty? Are we strong enough to take such a step without becoming mired in manifold repercussions?
Or should we simply say we have an agreed reconciliation process that unfortunately this doesn't fit neatly within, and leave the final decisions to the directly-affected parties to sort through as they may.
My sympathy is with the soul of it, but my knowledge of my countrymen on all sides tells me we may open a can of worms that proves too much for us to handle.
Bruce Bisset is a freelance writer and poet. Views expressed are the writer's opinion and not the newspaper's.