The proposed transfer of 11 Mission St to Tauranga iwi is sparking controversy after public submissions on it.
Former Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy is disturbed by the comments which she believes show that racism is alive and well in the Bay of Plenty.
"I read some of the submissions and I watched online when there were the verbal submissions around the consultation," Devoy said.
"Whilst I'm never shocked about what people say, I found those comments really offensive and very racist," she said. "And note that I don't say the individuals are. I say their words are abhorrent."
"Following that, I read about comments that Māori can't be trusted.
"Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and can have a differing view about something, but comments like that show there is a real ... I was going to say underbelly of racism in this city but it's actually reared its ugly head.
"It's not hidden, it's right out there for everyone to see."
The comments included:
"Please don't gift this land to Māori - no no no! - no more freebies."
"The whole Bay of Plenty is being given away and it is never enough. The burglaries, rapes, child murders and car theft will continue unabated."
11 Mission St once belonged to local iwi. But In 1866, the Anglican Church Mission Society sold 423ha of Māori land to the government without seeking hapū agreement. This led to a public apology last year to local iwi from the Anglican Church.
Tauranga City Council now wants to gift 11 Mission St to the Otamataha Trust, which represents Ngāti Tapu and Ngai Tamarawaho.
"The Elms Foundation and the Otamataha Trust want the same thing," Devoy said.
"They want the preservation of land, of history, of culture - so I don't know why people get irritated or annoyed, and the worst comes out of everyone when they think something's being taken away from them, that wasn't necessarily ours in the first place."
The most vocal opponent to the deal is Western Bay of Plenty mayoral candidate Margaret Murray-Benge. She strenuously denies her objection is race-based, saying it's a council issue.
"The truth is it has nothing to do with race, and all to do with council processes. It's as simple as that."
Murray-Benge wouldn't agree to an interview but in a statement said:
"I am not racist. I have many close relationships with local Maori and I have personally loved and lost two dear friends who were both Maori."
She also sought to clarify reports that she said local Māori cannot be trusted to keep their word.
"That was not what I said. What I was referring to was the hypothetical situation where if any given party has had the rules or processes bent in their favour, it would stand that it could likely happen again. That was what I was trying to communicate. Of course Maori can be trusted just as much as any other race or group of people. I have many trusted, loyal friends who are Maori."
Ngāi Te Rangi iwi youth co-ordinator Josh Te Kani also believes there is a misunderstanding, as many of those who oppose the transfer do not know the history.
"Me and my family actually descend from this whenua," he said.
"With one of our tupuna and many of our tūpuna who lived there. The way we see it, with the history that unfolded and a little bit of treachery as well, that it's only right that the land is returned back to tangata whenua, or in this case, Otamataha Trust."
Tauranga City Council will decide the fate of the house and land tomorrow, the 10th of September.
"It will be great if Tauranga Council show some mana, stick to their guns and follow through on the proposed deal," Devoy said.
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