Weekly column by Kāpiti mayor K Gurunathan
It's early Sunday morning. The women of Puketapu hapū have come to Kaitawa Reserve where the waters of the Wharemauku Stream run clear and sweet. Thanks to the three decades of native restoration undertaken by the Friends of Kaitawa Reserve. Here, the women gathered the native kawakawa. Washed in the waters of the Wharemauku, they were used to make wreaths to be worn on their heads. In Māori medicine the kawakawa is used to heal wounds. They are also used in spiritual events like tangi to symbolise bereavement. The Puketapu are a wounded hapū. Wounded by the loss of their land taken by the Government. In 1939, it used the Public Works Act to take more than 125 hectares for defence purposes. In 1995, it was sold into private hands without being offered back to the original owners. The loss of their spiritual connection to the land has also meant the loss of their kaitiaki status over the Wharemauku and the food basket it once nourished through its extensive wetlands. This waterway that flows through Paraparaumu, including the airport land, has been turned by "development" into a polluted stormwater drain.
As to the story of why the Puketapu women went to where the biodiversity of the Kaitawa Reserve embraced the Wharemauku, this is best told in the words of two of the women - Takiri Cotterill and Tania Ellison. It started the day before:
"On Saturday, at our hapū hui, we were able to unanimously ratify our trust deed with representatives from all key whānau lines present on the day, including kaumātua travelling from across the motu. A significant occasion as we work collectively towards a future that serves the best interests of Puketapu ki Paraparaumu. Through the establishment of Puketapu ki Paraparaumu Trust, the trustees will determine an appropriate process for engaging with media through a mandated spokesperson.
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"On Sunday we took the opportunity to come together again as whānau and hapū to honour our tūpuna and reconnect with our whenua for the first time since it was acquired for the construction of the Paraparaumu Aerodrome. The working party worked with the current owners of Kāpiti Coast Airport to give our hapū the opportunity to not only physically walk on our whenua, but to also acknowledge all those who have gone before us and have fought for this whenua. We want to personally thank Chris Simpson, who not only worked with us to make this day happen, but also ensured that this was a private occasion for us as a hapū by recognising the significance of He Rau Mahara as a kaupapa.
"We also want to thank Guru and Claire who we invited to join us in recognising the role they have played over the years as Pou Whirinaki for the protection of the rights of us as mana whenua. Lastly, we are incredibly grateful to both Koro Jack, Koro Don and Nanny June for their ongoing support and endless aroha. Mei kore ake i a koutu, kua kore hoki matou, he kore te puna o aroha e pau, e kore hoki e mimiti haere, no motu katoa o Puketapu ki Paraparumu te whiwhi."
This weekend has been the beginning of the healing not only of a people spiritually, culturally and economically wounded by the loss of their land, but also the wounds of whānau tensions that inevitably follow such alienation. In the Māori world the healing of a people is also linked to the healing of the land and its waterways. The Crown, in redressing its own sordid role in this wounded alienation, has a moral obligation to ensure the hapū has an opportunity to look at all the opportunities, including any beyond the obvious low-hanging fruit presented to them. The women who washed the kawakawa leaves in the clear waters of the upper Wharemauku know the journey ahead needs the wisdom of kotahitanga.