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Atiawa Ki Whakarongotai welcomes tribunal findings against development of local urupa

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

WAI 1945 claimants, supported by Ātiawa kaumātua and Ātiawa ki Whakarongotai Charitable Trust, welcome the Waitangi Tribunal report on the Kārewarewa Urupā, and its findings that the systematic lack of Crown protection led to its development and desecration.

The damning report, released today, outlines that, despite being an historically significant burial site in Waikanae, a series of failings on the part of the Crown over more than 120 years prejudiced the iwi, leading to their loss of ownership and control of the urupā, the removal of its ‘Māori Cemetery’ designation, and ultimately the desecration of the urupā via the construction of a housing development on more than half of the urupā block. The report notes that the developers continue to attempt to progress further development today.

Ātiawa ki Whakarongotai Charitable Trust Chair André Baker says the report finally addresses serious grievances the iwi have been fighting to resolve over successive generations. The report supported the claimants’ view that the Crown had not provided appropriate levels of protection to Māori cemeteries.

"The report upholds the view of claimants that there have not been adequate checks and balances in the system to prevent the desecration of Māori cemeteries and wāhi tapu. These findings have implications not just for our iwi, but for all iwi and kaitiaki of urupā and wāhi tapu.

"It is a huge step towards the process of healing for us to have the Tribunal provide findings that finally recognise how the statutory regime in relation to Māori land and heritage deprives us of our tino rangatiratanga over our urupā and wāhi tapu.

"Ātiawa ki Whakarongotai claimants have successfully highlighted that the Crown does not take an active approach to intervene where local government processes are likely to lead to the desecration of urupā. This has led to concessions from the Crown that this is in fact a breach of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

"Many iwi members have fought over generations to protect the urupā, but today our iwi is particularly grateful for the leadership of the original claimant and beloved kaumatua Paora Ropata for filing the claim on behalf of all of our kaumātua and the wider iwi."

The late Mr Ropata had presented evidence regarding the desecration of the site, including the illegal exhumation of eleven individuals’ kōiwi tangata, or skeletal remains, in 2000. He spoke to the deep impact this had on both those whose ancestors were buried at the urupā, and on residents he provided support to when they had found themselves inadvertently residing on a Māori cemetery.

Mr Baker says it is saddening that the original claimant Mr Ropata had passed away only last year, and that this spoke to the significant life-long challenges in having these issues properly addressed and resolved by the Crown. However, the iwi are encouraged by the Waitangi Tribunal providing this specific report on Kārewarewa early and in advance of the wider iwi report for Te Ātiawa, out of recognition that the urupā requires urgent protection.

The Waitangi Tribunal found that there are currently systemic Treaty breaches in the application processes for exploratory authorities under the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act 2014. The report states that in 2016 the iwi were prejudiced by the granting of an exploratory authority to the developers to dig a test pit as part of their continual interest in further developing the land.

Mr Baker says the Ātiawa ki Whakarongotai have renewed confidence in their ability to protect the urupā. "We anticipate that the findings in this report will assist in once and for all putting an end to any further development of the urupā, and we are open to working with the Crown to determine what steps they might take to remedy the grievances that have been generated for our people.

"We urge the Minister of Culture and Heritage to take heed of the report and commit to adopting the recommendations made by the Tribunal.

"Whilst the failings of the Crown to protect urupā and wāhi tapu from development greatly impact on us as descendants, the inability to prevent development in urupā and wāhi tapu also puts the wider community at risk.

"We are very sensitive to the fact that members of our community may also feel aggrieved that they have come to reside in a home in this area, and for many years now our kaumātua have provided direct support to those who have contacted us with that concern."

Mr Baker says that the recommendations made in the report are an important contribution to the wider national discourse on the failings of the Crown to protect significant Māori heritage sites, such as Ihumātao. The iwi supported the Tribunal’s assertions on the role that the Māori Heritage Council of Heritage New Zealand should play in addressing these.

"The Tribunal has made it clear that in order to prevent the recurrence of prejudice against Māori in having their urupā and wāhi tapu protected, there is a need to amend legislation and address the systemic issues with Heritage New Zealand processes."

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