Treaty settlements celebrations for Far North iwi have been clouded by a 28-hour occupation of Kaitaia Airport by Ngati Kahu that ended in a blaze of tyres and five arrests.
Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Chris Finlayson labelled the Ngati Kahu protesters miscreants and oafish during the debate in Parliament on the Te Hiku Claims Settlement Bill.
The airport occupation, which began just before lunchtime on Tuesday, ended as police moved in just before 3pm yesterday. Action leader Wi Popata, of Ngati Kahu, said the occupation was a protest against the $100million Te Hiku Treaty settlement. The Te Hiku Claims Settlement Bill was read for its third and final time in Parliament yesterday ratifying the settlements of four of five Muriwhenua iwi - Te Aupouri, Ngai Takoto, Te Rarawa and Ngati Kuri. Ngati Kahu is the only Te Hiku iwi to not yet settle.
Northland District Commander Superintendent Russell Le Prou said negotiations with the protesters had failed to reach a resolution and police were left with no choice. He said the last straw was Barrier Air refusing to fly medical specialists into Kaitaia, despite an assurance from the protesters that the aircraft would not be impeded.
About 20 police went to the airport and closed the access roads. The protesters were given the ultimatum of leaving of their own accord or being arrested. Six members of the occupation remained on a bench seat in the airport carpark and police said five were arrested.
Tensions flared when the departing protesters lit fires on either side of the airport driveway, fuelled by tyres and fenceposts. The Kaitaia Fire Station sent one appliance to put out the fires.
Mr Popata said the fires were "signals". "It was to show the s*** we've been through. It's to remind people of the houses, the marae, the taonga that has been destroyed."
Mr Le Prou said the occupation had taken police by surprise. "Police were not aware that this was going to happen."
Far North Mayor John Carter said flights were expected to resume by this morning. He said airport operators Far North Holdings and Barrier Air had been supportive and patient during talks to settle the stand-off.
"When we heard that medical services had been curtailed, that was the final button," he said.
The cancelled flight had been scheduled to land at 8.30am with five doctors on board from Whangarei. Mr Popata said the occupiers had agreed to allow the medical specialists in but Barrier Air was unwilling to take the risk.
As Parliament passed the third reading of the Te Hiku bill yesterday, pressure was being brought to end the airport standoff. Former Mana MP and relative of the protesters, Hone Harawira, held a heated conversation with the occupiers, soon after the flight was cancelled.