What just happened? Local kaumātua led police on to land belonging to a foreign-owned construction company to evict protesters. And within days thousands of people had flocked to join the protest. A little earlier, in another part of the country, a TV network screened footage of staff from child welfare agency Oranga Tamariki trying to take a newborn child from its mother – and the dispute exploded.
Both conflicts involve Māori against Pākehā. They both also involve Māori against Māori. No one should be surprised at that: we don't expect all Pākehā to think or act the same, so why should we expect it for Māori?
Still, in both disputes, Māori on both sides have said enough to colonial injustice. Both disputes are over how to do that: how to use tikanga Māori to make things better.
They have overtones of tradition v modernity and youth v age. Also, of women v men, those inside mainstream society v those without, those who trust civic institutions v those who don't. Moderates v radicals. People committed to incremental change and to using compromise as a way forward, v others who want overturn the existing order.
And cutting across all of that, on both sides of both disputes there are people with confidence in the future. And others, also on both sides in both disputes, who are in despair.
It's easy enough to say there are no quick fixes, no easy answers. But it feels like something else is going on. Something historic.
We've seen other conflicts this year, too. School students walked out of classrooms in a massive protest against inaction on climate change – even as that issue finally assumed a central role in our political debates. We no longer talk about agriculture, transport, energy, community relations, the economy itself, without talking about climate change.
And there's more. Assisted dying, drug law reform, corrections reform and abortion law reform have all, after years of little action, made it to the mainstage of public debate.
It's as if the cork has come out of the bottle. We're redefining who we are, in a way we haven't done since the 1980s, the decade of the Springbok Tour, the Patea Māori Club, the anti-nuclear moment and the uranium David Lange could smell in the Oxford Union debate on Jerry Falwell's breath. The decade of Roger Douglas, with its destruction of the old economy and liberation of the new. The decade in which the jurisdiction of the Waitangi Tribunal was extended back to 1840.
Everything since then has been about then. Coming to terms with the economic, social and cultural reforms, exploiting their potential, building on the best and undoing the worst of what they gave us, what they turned us into.
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Now we're there again, a new historic moment with a new generation of leaders in Parliament and new sensibilities at large in civil society. We're being asked: who are we now?
No one controls this process. It's never orderly and as Jacinda Ardern has surely realised, it doesn't often happen around the issues you might want to choose. Things hiss and bubble, and one day they blow the top off, and how we cope with that, how we put the cork back in the bottle, tells us who we are and how we move forward.
Jacinda Ardern thought it would be climate change, and that could still happen. But the thing that's blown the cork is Ihumātao.
Did anyone see it coming? Pania Newton did: the protest leader has been saying they will lie in their hundreds in front of the bulldozers, from the moment Save Our Unique Landscape (SOUL) began occupying the land almost three years ago. Was anyone listening?
The Government should have been. It's Ardern's home town. Local MPs Aupito William Sio and Peeni Henare, and Greens co-leader Marama Davidson, have all visited the protest site several times over those three years. Weren't they talking to the boss?
Did they tell her about the 29-year-old Pania Newton, about what a courageous, determined and remarkably gifted leader she is? And did Ardern notice, with Ihumātao as with climate change, how the world of protest has filled up with young people?
If you're a baby boomer you might remember what it feels like: to believe you can build a better world, to be determined to do it because you know it needs to be done. And if you're younger than the boomers, you're probably going yeah-nah, we're not going to make the mistakes of you old people. Boomers may remember that exact sentiment.
And be prepared to take it seriously. With climate change, there's despair the best-laid official plans offer too little, too late – as if we can quietly work our way out of the problem, a step at a time, keeping business more or less as usual. The tides will rise before that can happen.
At Ihumātao the protesters' outrage is not simply over legal processes failing mana whenua. It's because they understand the law has been contrived to produce that failure.
In 1863 the land was confiscated and later sold to Pākehā farmers, and the Waitangi Tribunal can't rule on private land. This century, construction and development company Fletchers bought the land precisely because the Government designated it a "special housing area", thus turning it into a valuable asset for the company. The Environment Court was not able to let it become public space.
It's not just SOUL that sees it this way. Local iwi Te Kawerau ā Maki's decision to compromise was rooted in the same understanding. When you know something is wrong, either you try to overturn it, or you find a way to make the best of it.
If anyone's looking for a case study in how a colonial power exercises its authority at the expense of an indigenous minority, turning all the rules to its own advantage and visiting the consequences on generation after generation, Ihumātao is it.
So now the Government – which is also the Crown – must step up. Would it set a precedent if they brokered an agreement to buy the land and found a way to meet the demands of SOUL and Te Kawerau ā Maki?
Several commentators have sketched out how it doesn't have to be seen as a precedent. This is private land, so not directly relevant to other Treaty settlements. There could be a role for Auckland Council. Fletchers needs this like it needs a hole in the head, so will surely seek an exit. A heritage reserve around one of the most precious historical sites in the city would be a marvellous asset. There could be a way to please everybody.
The demands of the iwi can't be forgotten. Getting some affordable housing from Fletchers was a major gain for them. So that means houses must be built – but not on the precious stonefields land.
There's no good reason for them to go there anyway: it's greenfields, away from public transport and other services. The council has to step up with the Government on this: aim higher in the town planning. Start here, start now.
You can see Ihumātao as a one-off, not a precedent, for another reason: it sets a very high bar. The site is unique, as the name SOUL reminds us, and the protest has seized the popular imagination in a way very few others do. Thousands flocked to Ihumātao last weekend, and will surely do so again if called on: that's unique too.
But set all that aside. If the Government intervenes to the settle the conflict at Ihumātao, of course it will set a precedent.
It would be exactly the precedent the Government needs. At Ihumātao, mana whenua were done an injustice by the Crown and it's been compounded over the years. That came to a head when the law enabled the creation of private wealth for Fletchers, at the expense of the cultural and historical wealth of the people of the land, and of the citizens of the city.
The precedent the Government has a chance to set is this: to say no. We're the Crown, we take responsibility. The days of deliberately taking what we can from Māori, just because we can, and hiding behind self-serving laws to defend the action, are over.
It's true Ihumātao won't be easy to resolve, principally because of the legal complexity. But actually, Ihumātao is the easy one. Learning as a Government and a society how to build whanau and community resilience, how to make our children safe: that's far harder. So is dealing with climate change. And the clamour on all of them is rising.
That's why it's historic. We're being asked to change the way we operate. How Parliament manages laws and justice, how society responds to crisis.
Whatever you want to call it, Prime Minister, this is your moment. It starts now.