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National day of action to protect Ihumaatao

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Individuals and groups are standing in solidarity with the Save Our Unique Landscape (SOUL) Campaign outside Fletcher offices in Wellington, Auckland, Dunedin, and Hamilton on Friday 15 February to stop an unwanted housing development on 33 hectares of rare landscape at Ihumaatao, near Auckland International Airport.

This land is part of a rare cultural heritage landscape and is adjacent to the Otuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve. It was unjustly confiscated in 1863 and given to settlers who farmed it until their descendants sold it for around $20m to Fletcher Building Limited in 2016. Fletcher wants to build 480 houses.

According to Pania Newton, SOUL Spokesperson, "Our people cannot thrive without this land. It is part of a wider landscape that defines our identity, health and wellbeing."

The SOUL Campaign has been working tirelessly to protect the land from development since 2015, even going to the United Nations three times where it secured a recommendation from the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to the New Zealand Government, to ensure proper consultation was carried out with all affected Māori. As yet, the Government has not responded.

SOUL argues that the original confiscation cannot be ignored and the natural, conservation and heritage values of this landscape make it crucially important to the nation.

"The whole story of our country can be told at Ihumaatao - the good, the bad and the ugly," says Newton. "We want it protected for all New Zealanders to enjoy, especially our future generations."

This week Steve Evans, Chief Executive of Fletcher Building Limited told media the company was open to offers, although as yet nothing serious has been presented. "Like any of our land sites, we would always be open to offers which valued the land at or above what we thought was its value," Evans told the New Zealand Herald.

Newton says: "We have met with the company a few times and we want to keep meeting, but the Crown and Auckland Council are still avoiding the issue."

Groups standing in solidarity with SOUL say there’s a unique opportunity for the Crown and Auckland Council to secure public ownership, then negotiate a just future for the land and the community. The historical injustices attached to this land cannot be ignored.

SOUL’s new Action Station petition #ProtectIhumātao is seeking to protect the land for all New Zealanders. SOUL is asking Government and Auckland Council to buy the land or mandate a process that comes up with an outcome everyone can live with.

Groups are now joining SOUL to stop the development. They believe Fletcher has a responsibility to act as a corporate citizen. "Obviously there is a deep hurt attached to this land and all the consents in the world can’t wash that away. The Government has to step in," adds Newton.

"SOUL is doing everything possible to avoid confrontation on the land, but our nannies are preparing to stand in front of the bulldozers if they come. Our plea to Fletcher is this: Don’t send in the bulldozers or the Police. Let’s work this out around the table with Government, Auckland Council, Iwi and other affected parties."

SOUL are currently occupying land at Ihumātao to halt Fletchers plans to start construction. SOUL have called for collective action and support in an effort to stop a confrontation on the land. ‘We invite anyone who wants to stand against colonisation and racism to join us at Fletchers on Friday the 15th. If you can’t make it to a protest, we invite you to call or email Fletchers and let them know how you feel.’’

‘We often look back at historical campaigns like Bastion Point and think we would have been on the right side of history. Now is the time to take a stand and protect Ihumātao and support mana whenua fighting to get back land the government stole.’ said Pania Newton.

‘This is colonisation in action. The mana whenua of this land were driven from it illegally once, and now Te Tiriti obligations are again being ignored and this culturally sacred land is being threatened further.’ said Brendan Corbett.

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