Near Aukland airport, on the Northern Island of New Zealand, Maori protesters are blocking access to a construction site to protect what they regard as sacred land. The stand-off bears some similarities to the confrontation at Mauna Kea.
Ihumatao sits on 80 acres adjacent to one of the most important archeological sites in New Zealand – the stonefields of Otuataua.
700 years ago, newly arrived Maoris planted their first gardens there, and it wasn’t easy. This was the Polynesians first experience in temperate, not tropical farming. But by the time Europeans arrived, Otauatoua flourished and provided food, not just to nearby colonists, but exported wheat as far away as Sydney.
In the 1860s, Maoris were driven off the land, in breach of an 1840 treaty.
Otuataua has long since been protected as a historic reserve, but the land just outside was held by private farmers – who eventually sold it to a development company. Five years ago, Fletcher Residential announced plans to build 480 houses on the site, and protesters started an occupation that’s continued to this day.
The protesters have taken their case to the Auckland City Council, the New Zealand Parliament and to the United Nations. But the situation is complicated by the fact that the local iwi’s Tribal Authority supports the housing plan – which includes a proposal to return 25% of the land. The situation at the site escalated after occupiers were served with an eviction notice last week.
Over the last weekend, thousands gathered in support.
After initially promising not to intervene, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern put a hold on development until a resolution can be negotiated.