It is time to pause and reset the controversial Significant National Areas land classification process, Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson has said.
The comments came on a day that more than 2000 people took their protest over the land classification scheme to the Far North District Council headquarters in Kaikohe.
Robertson spoke while in Kawakawa as part of a Budget roadshow but did not go to Kaikohe, leaving for Whangārei with Te Tai Tokerau MP Kelvin Davis and Northland MP Willow-Jean Prime before the hīkoi arrived in nearby Kaikohe.
However, he told the Advocate that the SNA process had not been done well and needed to be paused and reset.
Robertson said many in the Far North were looking for answers. Associate Environment Minister James Shaw would soon visit the Far North to listen to local people as part of this, he said.
In one of Northland's biggest-ever protest hīkoi, mainly Māori interests were joined by Pākehā farmers and conservationists.
Panguru great-grandmother Hinerangi Cooper-Puru, aged 84 and daughter of land march icon Dame Whina Cooper, told FNDC and marchers the people of the Far North were hurting.
"I went to the memorial of my mother this morning in Panguru (before we left to come here) and talked with her. She is with us here today," the Hokianga kuia told councillors and the gathered hīkoi.
"I want you (the council) to say you have sinned against Māori."
In a fiery speech, Cooper-Puru demanded — to no avail — that councillors repeat after her, ''I have sinned''.
The hīkoi began at Te Rerenga Wairua (Cape Reinga) on Thursday morning, with the initial group of about 20 welcomed at Panguru in the North Hokianga before dawn on Friday.
There they paid their respects at a statue of Dame Whina, then headed for the Hokianga ferry. Numbers swelled steadily as the convoy headed south.
In Kaikohe they were met by people streaming from every corner of Northland. The top of Broadway, Station Rd and Memorial Ave were closed to traffic about 11.30am.
Six of FNDC's 10 councillors were at the council's head office to meet the protest hīkoi, including Felicity Foy, Dave Collard, Rachel Smith, Kelly Stratford, Moko Tepania and John Vujcich. Council chief executive Shaun Clarke was also present.
Protesters called on FNDC to take the message from the hīkoi for the Government to stop, rather than pause on SNAs.
Councillor Moko Tepania - who received a petition demanding the halt on SNAs - said his council would be taking that message to the Government.
Cooper-Puru spoke out against the absence of Far North Mayor John Carter. He was in Wellington, meeting other rural councils where the topic of SNAs was to be discussed.
Hīkoi co-ordinator Rueben Taipari hoped the ''Stealing Native Areas'' march would ''make the Government actually listen to the people who live on the land''.
''We're passionate about our whenua and our moana, it's part of our legacy. If someone comes in and imposes their authority on top of ours, that's colonisation all over again.''
Ngatiwai chief executive and Whangārei hīkoi leader Huhana Lyndon told the crowd SNAs had come from the Government through Northland Regional Council (NRC) and to the Far North council.
"We need to be part of the discussion on this going forward because we are kaitiakitanga," she said. Lyndon was meeting Davis about SNAs after the hīkoi.
Former Labour MP Dover Samuels said SNAs were another example of the alienation of Māori land that had happened through cumulative pieces of legislation, including the Local Government Act.
Former FNDC and NRC councillor and Hokianga farmer Joe Carr said the Northland Regional Council's Regional Policy Statement (RPS) laid the foundation for Friday's protest hīkoi through creating the process for FNDC.
"The gun was loaded by NRC and passed on to FNDC," Carr said. He was part of the 1997 "Can the Plan" opposition when the Far North council originally tried to bring in the forerunner of SNAs. Public opposition forced that to be dropped.
Kawakawa SNAs rebellion meeting organiser and farmer Kate Lowe said there were enough legislative controls to protect indigenous biodiversity on private land.
Broadwood farmer Peter McKenzie said he believed SNAs had been brought in by the council "under the radar".
"SNAs should be stopped. Rip them up," McKenzie said. "It's no good just pausing. That's a bit like putting lipstick on it and telling you it's beautiful."
The furore started last month when Far North District Council sent 8000 letters to property owners identifying potential SNAs on their land. The SNAs cover 42 per cent of the district, with almost two thirds of that being private land.
While SNAs have existed since the early 1990s, the Government's National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity — due to be passed by Parliament later this year — was expected to give them more teeth, including requiring landowners to seek consent for a wide range of activities. The aim was to protect native biodiversity, particularly on private land.