Māori-Crown Relations Minister Kelvin Davis visited occupiers at Pātaua South yesterday, hoping to learn more about the unfolding situation relating to contested land.
The group, representing local whānau, Te Waiariki, and Ngāti Kororā began their occupation 12 days ago, inspired by a series of events relating to a large area of land up for sale and its potential development.
Now in its second week, support for the movement has grown rapidly, with around 30 people now occupying the site. A Facebook page set up by the group, Protect Whānau Whenua – Pātaua, now has more than 1300 likes. Occupiers have built a makeshift ablution block, kitchen, and area to whakatau manuhiri to the site.
The group told Davis they have had their offers to buy back the land rejected, as were requests for access to Māori-owned land, and the return of other lands from DoC that they claim were unfairly taken.
Spokesperson for the Pātira-Gough whānau, which has ancestral ties to the land, Kelly Klink said road construction workers were at the site on Tuesday, planning to begin work to seal an access road that runs through the contested land.
Klink said the workers were asked to leave and did so. Klink said sealing the road would be detrimental to their hopes of one day reverting the land to a tidal channel between the Pātaua River and Tai Haruru inlet.
"They [the land owners] can't sell the land if the road isn't fixed."
According to Klink, the Department of Conservation recently approved the vesting of some of its reserve land to the Whangārei District Council for a public road, to enable legal access to property owned by the Harrison Trust, allowing the council to approve the trust's subdivision application.
"We'll block the road if we have to," Klink told Davis on Wednesday morning.
Davis, the MP for Te Tai Tokerau, has links to Pātaua through his grandfather, who lived and died in the area. He told occupiers he had come to listen to their concerns and learn more about the issues surrounding the land. Following a whakatau and update on the current situation, Davis then walked the land with the group, to see first-hand what they were fighting for.
"This is a battle that we have been fighting since long ago, the battle for the return of lost lands," Davis said.
While Davis made no promises to the group, his presence on the site was seen as an encouraging sign for the occupiers. They are hopeful he will take their concerns to the appropriate authorities with the intention of aiding their cause.
Representatives from the group are also expected to meet with Whangārei mayor Sheryl Mai and operations director of the northern North Island for DoC Sue Reed-Thomas today.