Prepare to go ballistic. Nice intro, that. Paul Holmes used it last week in his preamble to a story about what one could only feel was yet another ridiculous obstruction of progress by Maori.



As Holmes declared, hitting just the right tone of righteous outrage, we'd had that taniwha business. We'd had the sand on the North Shore beach. And now, for goodness' sake, we had the mountain, Kopukairoa near Tauranga, where hard-working landowners were having their rights ripped away by some precious Maori placing a wahi tapu registration on their land.



The utter injustice of it all. Here were four private landowners who, thanks to those wussy liberals at the Historic Places Trust, couldn't now build new houses on their land, couldn't subdivide, couldn't harvest their trees unless they went to the local council, which would be forced to consult with local Maori.



They came across as such reasonable people, too. Unlike the Maori guy at the local marae, who looked pretty silly telling the Holmes reporter that he couldn't say whether or not his ancestors' bones were on the mountain because it wasn't his place to do so, but never mind about that.

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Obvious translation: here is yet another completely spurious Maori claim based on nothing more than the iwi's wish to cause aggravation and exert control over land that is no longer theirs. Clearly, no private land is safe from the grasp of Maori.



Holmes was right. It did get the blood pressure boiling. Only in my case, and doubtless in the case of many Maori watching, it was for quite the opposite reason. Not least its neglect of a few crucial facts.



According to the Historic Places Trust, which faxed Holmes the same information, a wahi tapu registration doesn't make the land tapu, it merely signals that the land is considered sacred to Maori.



The local authority may decide to take that into account in its district plan. Or it may not. It may choose to ignore it completely.



A wahi tapu registration doesn't, of itself, change a landowner's right to subdivide, build houses or cut down trees. That's controlled by the district plan and the local council.



It's true there's no right of appeal to a registration. But if a local council decides to make changes to its district plan to recognise wahi tapu, landowners and the public have the right to mount a challenge.



The Resource Management Act has the real statutory teeth. That requires councils to consult all affected parties when applications are made for resource consents. And not just iwi, either, but neighbours, owners and, in the case of land registered as wahi tapu, the Historic Places Trust.



Ultimately, though, the decision rests with the relevant local authority, which in almost every case is dominated by Pakeha councillors. Anyone unhappy with their decision is welcome to take a case to the Environment Court.

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Here's another fact that Holmes failed to mention: of the 180ha of Kopukairoa registered as wahi tapu, 100ha is in Maori hands. The rest was sold back in the 1960s by a few shareholders, which suggests that they were acting against the interests of the iwi.



And the reason the land is considered sacred? Part of the case is that Kopukairoa is a representation of one of three guardian whales said to have guided the migratory waka from Hawaiki to New Zealand. It has mythological, historical and cultural significance for the Ngai te Rangi hapu of Nga Potiki and the Ngati Pukenga iwi. They regard it as a symbol of their identity and mana. The tribe's well-being is reflected in the well-being of the mountain.



It is hardly surprising that there is no physical evidence of this. They're not required to provide it, either - but that doesn't diminish the area's importance for local iwi.



Does this constitute special treatment for Maori? Look at this way. Nationally there are 63 areas or sites registered as wahi tapu. There are, however, 6000 buildings, areas or places with a historical registration which carry the same statutory weight as wahi tapu - and the vast majority of those have been made at the request of Pakeha.



Of course, this is just what the Maori Heritage Council of the trust has told me. It could be that it contains a pack of liars. Or it could be that it is rather more familiar with the provisions of the 1993 Historic Places Act than, say, a few noisy landowners who seem to have misinterpreted their position.



As I write, another one has emerged to blame a wahi tapu registration for the Environment Court foiling his plans to build on his Northland property. Actually, there were other reasons, too, but why let facts get in the way of a good story?



On this issue, misunderstandings and misinformation abound and I'm beginning to think that some of it is wilful. Maori have complained for years at the way an overwhelmingly Pakeha mainstream media continue to shape and distort perceptions about them.



Holmes' treatment of the wahi tapu story has done nothing to dispel that.