By Jane Trask
Saving Ihumātao - a unique and sacred piece of land that has environmental, spiritual, historical, cultural and ancestral significance - should be one of our country's top priorities until peacefully resolved.
In my view, our Government has a responsibility to right the wrongs of the past by stepping up to protect Maori heritage land for our future.
This is not the right piece of land for mass complex development. Ihumātao is sacred; it has more than 600 years of cultural history and manaakitanga in the rich folds of the land that consumes it. Iwi and mana whenua in collaboration with Government and Auckland Council need to meet to talk through resolutions of what might be better suited. Whether it is development of a more iwi-focused nature or kept as a protected heritage site, privatisation needs to be rectified through understanding and solution-based talks.
The last remnants of this piece of Auckland are the site of which the Soul Campaign has been fighting tirelessly for the past four years to protect. The Soul Campaign stands for "Save Our Unique Landscape" and is led by mana whenua members whose whanau have resided and have been connected to Ihumātao for years.
They wish to preserve the land from becoming developed for the sake of approximately 480 high-end houses. Although an initial deal had been agreed upon by Fletcher and one side of the Ihumātao village, the other side of the iwi wants all of the land protected now and into the future. After the publicity and the heartache of those doing their utmost to protect Ihumātao, you would have to be crazy to purchase a house on such sacred land if it sadly went ahead.
We need to continue to educate ourselves about what is happening right now. Peaceful protectors are not protesters. I feel for the frontline police who have orders to do their job. This truth must be so conflicting at times.
Fletcher have done all that they could by consulting with Te Kawerau a Maki and its kaumatua Te Warena Taua and have even said they would be open to offers to sell back the land. The problem here is that people from the same iwi are in disagreement as to what is the right direction and serious talks need to take place. Both sides lay claim to the land as mana whenua and both deserve to be heard. Will there be resolution where everyone benefits and is happy?
By using our voices we can all work together to help uplift other unheard voices. I truly believe for all the misunderstandings and cultural differences we face in our country that the majority of New Zealanders care, surely we can make a difference and turn this decision around.
Jane Trask: Mum guilt is inevitable, even if we're doing fine
Comment: Baby uplift saga raises pertinent questions
I know how connected I feel to the ocean and the beach. I know how connected I feel to the forests and lakes. Like most New Zealanders I feel connected to my country and I want to feel connected to the choices being made for all of us.
My Instagram has been inundated with images, speech, links to the petition to sign and video talks explaining the situation at Ihumātao. I've signed the petition. I've read articles from both sides of the iwi situation and worked hard to understand the reasoning behind it all. I'm torn between feeling that the iwi who made the deal with Fletcher knew what they were doing and that the need to protect Ihumātao feels right.
I have made it a priority this week to educate myself around the legacy of Ihumātao and the protectors campaigning tirelessly for its preservation. Education around any issue that our country faces is crucial in ensuring its success in reaching goals.
I hope our Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, the Government and the Auckland Council step up and make a change by securing effective meetings that work towards a solution. It is a start that Ardern has halted all building on the Ihumātao site until the growing dispute is resolved.
The current list of protected sites favours churches and church buildings over land that is wahi tapu and is severely unbalanced in favour of European heritage. Pania Newton from the Soul Campaign so eloquently said, "As a nation, we value some forms of heritage over others. But heritage is not simply about those 'pretty things', why are we having so much trouble listing and protecting places and landscapes that are reminders to us of our pre-colonial legacies?"
We need a solution that ultimately protects the interests, hard work and direction of the Soul Campaign and the Ihumātao iwi they are currently fighting against. There are thousands of Kiwis of all nationalities who stand behind saving and protecting Ihumātao for the future.
One of my ex-students Aleisha Mitchell challenged yet confirms my thinking.
"We sometimes forget about the injustices that have happened in the past, due to the privileges and happiness we experience today. We sometimes forget that the whenua (land) we stand on is not ours to own but ours to guard and protect. We sometimes forget that the fight for rights is not over."
As a Pakeha, I've made it a way of my life to continually understand the Māori world that surrounds me in Rotorua. I strive to make changes every day to learn and educate myself.
I truly believe that New Zealand is becoming more confident at calling people out and supporting others for the important things we believe in. Ihumātao is one of those things and the time is now. Sign the petition and let's make more noise together to get behind not only protecting but saving Ihumātao for generations to come.
• Jane Trask is a Rotorua mother and a former dance and physical education teacher. She has a bachelor of sport and leisure studies and a postgraduate teaching diploma in PE and dance. She studied journalism as part of her university degree and she has always had a strong interest in print journalism.