Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson says the Government is spending $30 million to resolve the dispute at Ihumātao because the issue risked becoming his "generation's Bastion Point".
The Government is buying the land at Ihumātao from Fletchers for $30 million. Some of it will be used for housing – and the deal could eventually pass it into the ownership of tangata whenua.
Protest organisers say today's deal is an "important first step", but that it should now be up to whānau to decide the best use for the land.
Robertson announced the deal today, saying an agreement (He Pūmautanga) had also been signed between the Kīngitanga, the Crown and Auckland Council to decide on the future of the land.
The deal was "unique and innovative", he said, and resolved a dispute that was risking becoming his "generation's Bastion Point".
The Bastion Point protest was a 506-day occupation of land in Auckland's Ōrākei against a proposed Crown land sale.
Protest organiser: Important first step
Save Our Unique Landscape (SOUL) co-founder Pania Newton said the deal over Ihumātao was an important first step, and acknowledged the efforts of whānau and others who had maintained the occupation and kept up the pressure on the issue.
"We are relieved the Government has finally come out and made their announcement because that is the first step to healing the heartache that lies across this whenua."
Newton said it would be up to whānau to decide what to do with the land, but she did not necessarily believe it should be used for more housing.
"Most conversations have been around preserving and protecting this cultural landscape."
She was confident the Kīngitanga would handle the process of deciding who was ahi kaa well.
Newton also said it was disappointing that the Government did not acknowledge it as a Treaty-related settlement, given the land was confiscated from Māori.
The deal unveiled today
The Ihumātao agreement would mean the 33 hectares was bought and held by the Crown under the Government's housing programme – but also allowed for the land to be passed into the ownership of tangata whenua once talks about its future were held.
The Crown has specifically ruled out using the land for Treaty settlements.
The land has been occupied by tangata whenua trying to halt a housing development for the past four years.
Housing Minister Megan Woods said homes could be a mix of papakainga, mana whenua and some public housing.
"There is a need for housing to support kaumatua and kuia of this place and this agreement recognises that," Woods said.
The agreement states that buying the land for housing "will not limit future discussions and decisions being made and implemented in relation to the use and ownership of the land .. through the roopu whakahaere [steering group] process."
Those talks are expected to take up to five years.
The Maori King, Kīngi Tuuheitia Pootatau Te Wherowhero VII, has given his blessing to the deal. His spokesman, Rahui Papa, said it was done in a way that was outside the Treaty settlement process.
"After more than 160 years of alienation from Ihumātao, the descendants of the original owners will be reconnected with their whenua."
Papa said there would be a range of views on Ihumātao, but the most important thing was a peaceful and lawful agreement by willing parties that would put to rights a historical grievance.
One of the main concerns of those opposed to a Government buy-out was that it would undermine the "full and final" Treaty settlement process and potentially set a precedent for others to be re-litigated.
The agreement includes a specific clause stating that all parties agreed it did not constitute a settlement of historic claims under the Treaty, "and it is not the intention of the Crown to allow the whenua to be made available for the settlement of any Treaty claims, whether now existing or arising in the future".
Robertson said as well as housing, some of the land would be used to recognise the cultural and heritage values.
There are other 'Ihumātao' cases nationwide: Māori Party
Māori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi said the Ihumātao deal should be seen as "an important precedent" for the Crown addressing injustice by returning confiscated land to Māori outside of the Treaty settlement process.
"We know that there are many other 'Ihumātao' right around the country – sites of huge significance that mana whenua are fighting to have returned.
"It is the Māori Party position that no Treaty settlement is full and final if it is unjust, and that Treaty justice must mean the return of whenua Māori into the hands of whānau, hapū and iwi."
Meanwhile Fletcher Building chief executive Ross Taylor said the purchase by the Crown is a positive solution that has been reached after negotiations and discussions with the Government, Kiingitanga, mana whenua, and Auckland Council.
"We thank the Government for the pragmatic way they have approached this process. It hasn't been easy, and we acknowledge their role," Taylor said.
"We also acknowledge the iwi who we engaged with throughout the consenting and proposed master planning of the land. Any plans for the land are now a matter for the Crown and Kiingitanga.
Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson said it was significant step forward for the mana whenua of Ihumātao.
A steering committee would include three ahi kaa representatives (those with links to the land) supported by the Kīngitanga, one representative for the Kīngitanga, and two Crown representatives. Auckland Council would have an observer.
There have been successive attempts to try to resolve the stand-off over Ihumātao since tangata whenua moved on to it in late 2016 to block Fletcher's proposed housing development.
They had argued the land was of cultural, historical and archaeological importance, and should be protected as public space or returned to mana whenua.
In 2019, Ardern said the Government would not intervene, but afterward promised no new building would take place while the Government tried to broker a solution.
Labour's efforts were blocked by NZ First, which opposed using taxpayers' money for it.
NZ First leader Winston Peters revealed he had warned Ardern it was a confidence issue for him: a warning it could bring down the Government.
National has also opposed using taxpayers' money for the land and argued it risked re-opening the "full and final" Treaty settlement process.
Ihumātao is believed to be one of the first places in Auckland where Maori settled and farmed.
It was confiscated in the 1860s, and sold into private ownership in 1869.
The first Maori King was crowned at Ihumātao.
Occupiers moved in at the end of 2016, and the Kīngitanga joined them in August 2019, hoisting its flag at the site and taking a lead role in the negotiations with the Government.
'Meddling in private property rights'
Taxpayers should not be stumping up $30m for the deal, National's Finance spokesman Michael Woodhouse said.
"Taxpayers aren't a bank to be called upon to clean up the Government's poor decisions, particularly when it is meddling in private property rights.
"The Prime Minister should never have involved herself in the Ihumātao dispute and taxpayers shouldn't bailing her out now.
"The ramifications of this Crown deal go much further than the lost opportunity of building houses immediately. It will call all full and final Treaty settlements into question and set a dangerous precedent for other land occupations, like the one at Wellington's Shelly Bay."