"We are here for the trees, and are not going anywhere until they are safe."
Those are the words of Anna Radford, a PR consultant-cum-leader of Honour the Maunga (HTM), a group of mostly Mt Albert residents protesting against the felling of hundreds of exotic trees on Ōwairaka, in the heart of Tāmaki Makaurau, Auckland.
It has been a year since they set up camp, preventing contractors from starting what was meant to be a month-long job.
In that time the positions of Radford and HTM, and the Tūpuna Maunga Authority - which wants to replace the exotics with thousands of natives - have not budged an inch, and, if anything, become further entrenched.
A judicial review lodged in December, by a Ponsonby couple who said they were not linked to HTM, legally halted proceedings, and while it was heard in June a decision is yet to be released.
The TMA, established through a 2014 Treaty of Waitangi settlement which returned ownership of the city's 14 tūpuna maunga (ancestral mountains) to 13 iwi, plans to remove 345 exotic trees and plant 13,000 natives on the maunga as part of a citywide restoration project.
Under the 2014 settlement, the maunga are held in trust by the iwi for the "common benefit of Ngā Mana Whenua o Tāmaki Makaurau and the other people of Auckland", and have reserve status.
They are managed by the TMA, with iwi and council representatives, which exercises its powers having regard to "the spiritual, ancestral, cultural, customary, and historical significance of the maunga to Ngā Mana Whenua o Tāmaki Makaurau".
But HTM, many of whom had grown up in the area, and regularly walked the maunga and felt a deep connection to the towering oak and gum trees in line for the chop, strongly objected to the plans.
Initially the protest was 24/7, with a roster system - and some literally setting up camp - to stop the chainsaws.
Now, with the judicial review hitting pause on the plans, they have set up an informal education station just off the reserve, staffed by volunteers 9am to 3pm daily.
On the surface, the protest group's argument appears simple: save the trees, mainly because of issues like climate change, biodiversity and erosion.
But in opposing the Māori-led authority, they inadvertently unlocked a nasty underbelly of racism that often permeates national discussions involving Māori land ownership.
Social media has been running hot with racist comments; letters have been delivered to residents calling the Treaty settlement a "fraud"; toilets near the protest camp have been plastered in anti-Semitic graffiti; and a wahine Māori Ngahina Hohaia, who has a moko kauae, was allegedly racially and physically abused by an older Pākehā woman atop the maunga.
The protesters themselves have also received abuse. In January, a fire broke out at their campsite, which Radford believed was intentional.
The TMA was approached for comment for this article, but declined, citing the judicial review.
It previously stated removing the trees was part of a broader cultural and environmental restoration plan, designed to return the native flora and fauna, and culture and mana, to a landscape long dominated by colonisation.
HTM's mantra has always been that they supported that broad plan, just not how the trees would all fall in one fell swoop.
The TMA, for its part, has vociferously defended the plans, which were formulated by ecological experts.
For example, the trees needed to be removed at once to minimise land disturbance, and they had worked with ecologists to ensure habitat would remain for native birds.
But HTM has always questioned this expert advice, and sought expert opinions of their own to challenge it.
Radford, spoken to by the Herald on Tuesday, reiterated these views, and the position that the TMA needed to represent "all Aucklanders", in part due to having council representatives.
She batted-away any inference they might be undermining Māori authority of the site or helping to inflame racism towards Māori, and reverted the topic back to "saving the trees".
In the end, while the TMA appears to have sound plans as long as it is acting legally it does not matter what the protesters think, says Ben Thomas, a PR consultant who was press secretary for former Treaty of Waitangi negotiations minister Chris Finlayson when the Treaty settlement legislation was passed.
"[The protesters] need to remember this is not public land.
"It was returned to iwi, but part of the settlement was they agreed to share it with the rest of Auckland, which is just another example of the manaakitanga mana whenua have shown in this city."
He is referencing times like the very foundation of the city, when Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei sold about 3000 acres (1214ha) of its prime land to the Crown for a township to be established for the sum of £341.
Six months later, just 44 acres (18ha) of that land was resold to settlers for £24,275.
The money was used to build roads, bridges, hospitals and other services for the new town, and hence the early development of Auckland was essentially paid for by profits made from the sale of Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei's land.
Thomas said the TMA was not "just another council subcommittee", but a statutory body that governs the maunga for the benefit of everybody, in line with the iwi vision.
"I think, when looking what they've done on other maunga such as Maungawhau/Mt Eden, most would agree it really has been a huge benefit," Thomas said.
"I think [the protesters] are used to getting their way with these kinds of things, but are struggling to adjust to the new reality, which is to provide genuine benefit, for everyone."
A vast range of environmental NGOs have backed the TMA - including Forest & Bird, the Tree Council and Generation Zero - along with politicians far and wide, and, if social media is anything to go by, majority of Mt Albert residents.
Radford disputes this support as "ideological", and not focused on the trees.
But most of those in support of the plans would likely agree, that it is not all about the trees.
Sean Freeman, chairman of the Tree Council, previously said they not only supported the integrity of the plans, but saw the work as "an integral part of the healing of the Maunga".
So far though, a year on, there appears no clear path forward.
The TMA said it would wait until the outcome of the judicial review before commenting on their plans.
Ngarimu Blair, deputy chairman of Ngāti Whātua Orakei Trust, wrote in May to Majurey and Auckland Mayor Phil Goff, urging them to find compromise with the protesters.
"As ahi kā, and those who live in Tāmaki, Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei are faced daily with the hurt and loss of this impasse, and it is time for this to end and calm wise heads to guide us forward."
He said when Takaparawhau was returned to the hapū in 1991, they decided to leave mature exotic species as part of their restoration work, which helped control erosion and offered environmental benefits until the native plantings were established.
The TMA needed to bring the community along with its vision, which it had failed to do, he said.
Radford said regardless of the judicial review outcome, they were not going anywhere.
"We have come too far now to give up."
Honour the Maunga is holding a pōwhiri to celebrate its one year of protest this evening on the maunga from 6pm to 8pm.
The city's 14 tūpuna maunga were transferred to the mana whenua tribes of Auckland in a 2014 Treaty settlement.
They are managed by the Tūpuna Maunga Authority, made up of six iwi representatives, six Auckland Council representatives and one non-voting Crown representative.
The authority is independent of the council and has decision-making powers and functions.
Majority of the city's maunga were important Māori pā (settlements), making them separate from other parks and open spaces in that they were wāhi tapu - sites of immense spiritual, ancestral, cultural, customary, and historical significance to mana whenua.
The tree removals are the latest in the wider restoration project to replace hundreds of exotic trees on the city's maunga with 74,000 new native trees and shrubs by 2021, to "restore the mana".
In March last year, 150 trees were removed from Māngere Mountain/Te Pane o Mataoho/Te Ara Pueru, in April 112 trees from Ōhuiarangi/Pigeon Mountain, and last year a two-year removal of 100 pine trees began on Maungarei/Mt Wellington.
The aims of the city-wide project were to reconnect native ecological networks within and between the 14 maunga and the wider landscape, and also improve the sightlines.