Te Rarawa's announcement that it will fence bikes and offroad vehicles out of fragile sand dunes and sites of cultural significance at Ahipara has once again revealed an extraordinary, and shameful double standard.
Very few people in this country would argue with the principle that those who own land have total control over what they do with it (providing they comply with the law) and, even more fundamentally, who has access to it.
That is, until the land is in multiple Māori ownership. Then it's a different story. Māori-owned land, it seems, should be accessible to all to use as they see fit, even if they want to destroy it.
The reaction to Te Rarawa's announcement became so vile that the Northland Age was asked to take down the Facebook poll it ran on the subject. Please note, that request did not come from Te Rarawa, although the iwi would have been perfectly justified in asking. It came from another party, concerned at the damage the 'debate', for want of a better word, was doing in the community.
'Those who will no longer be able to ride and drive where they want will not be happy, of course, but the rest of us will be able to live with that.'
SHARE THIS QUOTE:
The criticism of Te Rarawa was by no means all local. Many of those who believe God gives them the right to ride their bikes and drive their vehicles wherever they see fit are further south. Many of them are no doubt the people who arrive at Ahipara every summer and make the season a misery for residents, and who, unless something changes, will one day kill someone.
Some critics appeared, by their Facebook photos, to be land owners themselves. One has to wonder how they would react if a horde of bikes turned up at their place and churned up the lawn or a few paddocks. But that's different. Their properties are not in multiple Māori ownership, so are protected by the law and convention.
Whatever one thinks about the Treaty settlement process, it is difficult not to understand what Te Rarawa is doing. The iwi is not stamping its foot and telling people to bugger off.
It is reacting to a practice that is vandalising a landscape that it owns, a landscape that everyone, critics and supporters of this decision alike, agrees is special, to save the very environment that attracts riders and drivers, and to protect specific areas that have huge cultural significance.
Who do these people who object so vociferously to this think they are? What gives them the belief that their right to destroy an entire landscape trumps the rights of the people who own that landscape to protect it?
Not unexpectedly, of course, some critics could not resist exaggerating. For their benefit, Te Rarawa has not said it will deny access to the beach or Tauroa (Reef Point). It is talking about protecting erosion-prone dunes west of Te Kohanga. Anyone who wants to will still be able to drive to Reef Point. Anyone who wants to will still be able to drive on Te Kohanga and 90 Mile Beach.
The only people affected will be those who get their kicks out of tearing up and down some sand dunes. And if they think Te Rarawa is being precious, selfish or arrogant, they should think again. The day is coming when bikes and offroaders will be officially unwelcome in many coastal areas in the Far North, because of the same problems that Te Rarawa is addressing at Ahipara.
Ask the people who live at and/or value Tokerau Beach what they think about hoons in the dunes there.
In part the problem, as always, is about numbers. It might not have mattered too much when one or two thrillseekers went to Ahipara with their bikes, but now, on a bad day, there can be hundreds.
A similar principle applies to freedom camping. Once upon a time people camped at Far North beaches, leaving nothing behind them when they left. Then the hordes began arriving, and, as in every horde, these ones included a proportion of numbskulls.
Campers began getting a bad rap for the damage they were doing and the mess they were leaving behind. So, inevitably, everyone was banned.
Whether or not the dunes at Ahipara really are being damaged, at least damaged more than they are by nature, is irrelevant though. The fact is that they are privately owned, and the owners have every legal and moral right to declare who can use them and how.
End of story. Anyone who doesn't like that should talk to their MP about changing the law so they can take their bikes on to anyone's private property to get their thrills.
To be fair, some critics have suggested alternative measures that Te Rarawa might consider. Such as charging for access to the dunes. Brilliant! Imagine the furore. Māori charging for public access to nature's playground?
Apart from anything else, even if people were prepared to pay, that would defeat the purpose of the exercise. The iwi is aiming to protect fragile landscapes and areas of cultural significance. How would charging a fee achieve that?
Another saw the building of fences as a waste of taxpayers' money. Eh? Where does the taxpayer come into this? Not a bad riposte though. If you haven't got much of an argument it never hurts to chuck in the misconception that anything Maori do has to be funded by the taxpayer. They don't have any money of their own, do they? And if they did they wouldn't spend it. Nah, they just send the bill to Wellington.
And as for nature damaging the dunes, so what? Steps can be taken to mitigate that too, although the iwi hasn't said it wants to try that. The fact is that nature will generally win, but 'damage' done by wind is not the same as damage done by wheels. Anyone who has any trouble with that concept should refrain from commenting at all.
We can only guess what the final outcome of all this will be, but hopefully it will be positive. Te Rarawa is not going to back down, and nor should it. Those who will no longer be able to ride and drive where they want will not be happy, of course, but the rest of us will be able to live with that.
If they cut fences, as some have threatened to do, the law will hopefully take its course. They will, as the iwi has pointed out, be trespassing on private land, just as they would be if they took their machines on to someone's farm or avocado orchard.
Perhaps the passion will ease a little when people begin to realise that there is no plan to keep them off the beach or the rocks leading to Tauroa. And maybe there will be some appreciation of the iwi's concerns, and the gracious manner in which its plans have been communicated.
Te Takiwa o Ahipara spokesman Haami Piripi said the Far North's colonial history had over time produced a relatively peaceful community, established upon the honour of "our respective leaders" sharing a nation as partners. History had not been kind to iwi Māori, but the Te Hiku o Te Ika Treaty settlement process had turned the tide in the recovery of rights and interests that had lain dormant for more than a century.
For Te Rarawa and its affiliated hapu, the principle of 'land returned for land lost' had resulted in the acquisition of several blocks, some of them coastal and culturally significant, empowering the tangata whenua and kaitiaki to exercise a stronger influence over caring for the environment, including sand dunes and inland beach areas.
"While we understand the impact that (fences) may have on enthusiasts and recreational riders, we ask for the same level of tolerance that we have shown to our Pākehā friends, all visitors to our rohe, for many years past."