As requested by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, the Kīngitanga have returned from discussions with mana whenua and called on the Government to negotiate with Fletcher Residential to return the Ōruarangi land at Ihumātao to its 'rightful owners'.
Auckland Mayor Phil Goff has responded saying this is a "Treaty matter and nothing to do with the Auckland Council" one assumes because he believes there was a Treaty of Waitangi settlement at Ihumātao. This is not the case. In an interview on Marae, Goff also referred to Te Kawerau ā Maki (Te Kawerau) as mana whenua at Ihumātao. This is also wrong.
The council also has an obligation to build strong Māori communities, strengthen and enable Māori communities to thrive, enhance Māori wellbeing, resilience, cultural identity, heritage and success and protect and restore environmental taonga.
The mayor's assumptions seem to stem from former National Government Minister for Treaty Negotiations Chris Finlayson who says he personally "negotiated and signed a settlement for all matters at Ihumātao" on "a wonderful day" at Makaurau Marae on February 22, 2014. Finlayson did sign the Te Kawerau ā Maki Settlement on that date and at Ihumātao; but obviously did not read the agreement because it does not include the 1860s confiscation or any other "matters" pertaining to Ihumātao.
The historical record from 1835 to 1966 shows that an amalgam of Ngāti Te Ahiwaru and Ngāti Māhuta (Te Ahiwaru) were mana whenua at Ihumātao and Te Kawerau a related tribe in West Auckland. The Te Kawerau Settlement says that, after becoming virtually landless during the early 1900s, tribal members began leaving West Auckland. Some went to Ihumātao, most scattered across Auckland.
In 2008, Te Kawerau entered two Treaty processes, one culminating in the Tāmaki Collective Agreement (2012) over the volcanic cones of Auckland, and another for their individual tribal claims in West Auckland. The settlement covering the latter was signed at Makaurau Marae but only because Te Kawerau no longer had a marae of their own.
The signing and location of that agreement, coupled with the fact that inadvertently or otherwise the former National Government left Te Ahiwaru out of the Auckland-Tāmaki process, created the mistaken impression that Te Kawerau are mana whenua for Ihumātao and had signed a settlement for that land. Te Ahiwaru are the principal mana whenua at Ihumātao. Te Kawerau have an interest because some of their descendants live at Ihumātao. There is no Treaty settlement.
Goff has also said the council will not be spending $40 million on buying the land and cannot afford to do so because of commitments to other open public space. This is questionable. The council recently re-designated 233 hectares of its land as open space - council land, no acquisition cost.
Moreover, the current 10-year Auckland Council budget includes $1.180 billion for the acquisition and development of open space and local parks. Over the same period the council is intending to sell $834 million of buildings, golf courses, car parks and parks much of which it wants to see redeveloped including for housing.
It is misleading to claim the council cannot afford 1.5 per cent of that budget for a 50 per cent share alongside the Crown to purchase Ōruarangi (current value $36 million) or less if Fletcher front. Alternatively, there is an obvious opportunity to land swap Fletcher onto land council intends to sell and return Ihumātao to mana whenua.
The council has a responsibility. Auckland's avarice drove the 1860s confiscation, its citizens raided Ihumātao stealing possessions and livestock and burning homes. Auckland has benefitted by inestimable billions of dollars in real estate and industry on the confiscated lands in South Auckland. The council initiated the Auckland Airport development and Māngere sewerage works, which devastated the Ihumātao community. The council also ignored the advice of its own officials in the confidential Wallace Block Report that substantial dialogue was required with Te Ahiwaru over the Fletcher proposal. Instead, they and Fletcher manipulated Te Kawerau, to progress the project.
Other councils have shown leadership in similar non-Treaty contexts. In 1990, the former Manukau City Council returned the titles for an urupā and the Te Pūkaki Tapu o Poutūkeka (Pūkaki Lagoon Crater) to the Pūkaki Māori Marae Committee. In 2001, they purchased 100 hectares of private land for $4.7 million to establish the Ōtuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve, and in 2007 25 hectares of private land creating the Pūkaki Crater Reserve to be jointly managed with Te Ākitai Waiohua.
In 2009, the former Waitakere Council, acting outside Treaty processes, paid $1 million for 2.6 hectares of private land at Bethells Rd in West Auckland to build a new Te Kawerau marae. In June this year, a month before the stand-off at Ihumātao, the Auckland Council approved the final transfer. While a significant effort to restore the mana of Te Kawerau, the current mayor and council are washing their hands of a similar duty to restore Te Ahiwaru.
The council also has an obligation to assist under its Māori Responsiveness Framework, which articulates goals to build strong Māori communities, strengthen and enable Māori communities to thrive, enhance Māori wellbeing, resilience, cultural identity, heritage and success and protect and restore environmental taonga.
The mayor's reticence on Ihumātao might reflect his wariness of a white backlash in this year's mayoralty election if he assists at Ihumātao. If so, it is time for a change.
Dr Rawiri Taonui is an independent writer, researcher and advisor on Māori, indigenous and inter-cultural human rights, equity, diversity and anti-racism. He was previously a Professor of Māori and Indigenous Studies in the Centre for Indigenous Leadership and Head of the School of Māori Art, Knowledge and Education at Massey University