Developing injustice: Māori, land developers and the future of grievance

Close to the time of his death, my ancestor, Tutereinga, was asked where he wished to be buried. He answered:

E koro ana mate koe, e hiahia ana koe kia takato koe i te taha o mātua e moe mai rā i te tihi o Mauao? E kao, ēngari me moe ahau ki Tahataharoa kia rongo ai ahau i te tangi o te tai.

Old one, when death comes, is it your desire to lie with your forebears who slumber on the crest of Mauao? No, take me to Tahataharoa that I may hear the murmur of the sea.

His decision to be buried in Tahataharoa has defined us, Pirirākau, as a people since that time. We are bound to our land as it is bound to us. Generations of our ancestors, of their bones, are in our land, and when it is our time most of us intend to be interred alongside them.

Despite confiscation which has led to Tahataharoa now being in private hands, the significance of Tutereinga’s final wishes have echoed across generations to draw the battle lines between developers and Pirirākau. In 2007, Heybridge Developments attempted to get a consent for a range of earthworks, including digging up 140,000 cubic metres of Te Tawa (ironically called a ‘borrow’ pit) to use it as fill on which to build four house lots on Tahataharoa, and digging a marina out of Tahataharoa. Initially approved consent by the Western Bay of Plenty District Council, they were denied consent by Environment Bay of Plenty. On appeal to the Environment Court, the decision was affirmed by the court who explained that it is “…an honestly held belief of Pirirakau that Tutereinga’s burial site is or may be within the application site.  We do not find that belief to be unlikely, implausible or inconsistent with the evidence which we heard,” however the Court was unable to decide if the area was a wāhi tapu, and put the onus on Heybridge Developments to prove it was not. In the subsequent appeal to the High Court in 2011, the Environment Court was found to have erred in not making a decision and putting the onus on the appellant rather than Pirirākau (under Section 6(e) of the Resource Management Act). We are now in the position of returning to the Environment Court for them to reconsider whether their original decision can be upheld under Section 8 of the Resource Management Act (RMA), which imposes the obligation to consider the principles (a complicated concept as noted in this discussion) of the Treaty of Waitangi in their decision.

Meanwhile, turns out the council can just grant consents for ‘borrow’ pit of up to 20,000 cubic metres without seeking anyone’s input, which they did, and they also approved seven house lots, four on the foreshore and three on the Wairoa riverbank, whilst no-one was really watching.

We are sick to death of these Pākehā systems. If we meekly follow the process laid out for us by the courts and the councils, Pirirākau will eventually lose everything and the developers will achieve everything they desire. And it is about to get a lot worse.

The National-led government is proposing a range of changes to the Resource Management Act:

  • A requirement for councils to work together to develop a single plan, covering all the rules in their area;
  • A new national planning template that sets out the structure and key content all councils must follow in the development of their resource management plans;
  • New fast-track consenting rules and processes to improve timeframes for simpler consents;
  • Enhanced provision for natural hazard management, learning the lessons from Canterbury;
  • Requirements to better engage with local iwi in making planning decisions;
  • Requirements for councils to provide a minimum of 10-years of urban land supply to cope with projected population growth;
  • Revision and consolidation of the current sections 6 and 7 of the RMA into a single list of matters of national importance;
  • Establishing a clearer performance-monitoring framework for councils, making them more accountable on how they are meeting environmental, cultural, social and economic needs.

The criticisms of these changes (from many and varied parties) are that it removes any teeth from the RMA. Sir Geoffrey Palmer (the original author of the RMA) claims that the changes “significantly and severely weaken the ability of the RMA to protect the natural environment and its recreational enjoyment by all New Zealanders.” Of particular concern to Māori is the combining of Sections 6 and 7, and whilst there is a claim that consideration of Māori cultural values will be in the new section, these need to be seen in the light of the change in the overall RMA to now protect economic interests as a priority.

Under these changes, I am sure we will lose Tahataharoa to the desires of developers with a vision of economic development that has no place for Pirirākau. My prediction is that the full and final settlements that the Crown signs with Māori in 50 years time will be to resolve the grievances that are being created now, and at the forefront of those will be the changes to the RMA.

But I’m not waiting for 50 years. The time to act is now. There is no justice for us in the courts or in the Parliament. There are seats at board tables for those of you who wish to prove what good Pākehā you have become, but those are just box seats to watch the last of our 3.6 million acres of Māori land (down from 66 million acres in 1840) being removed to be put to more ‘productive’ use by the rich ruling classes.

The only protection left for our land, our marae, our whakapapa, our language and our tikanga is us.

We must occupy our land.

It is not property that is owned by private owners with rights. It is Papatūānuku who is being held hostage by people who stole her from our ancestors. She is crying out for us to return. Our prophets and their people came to a place of peace where arrest and imprisonment held no fear for them, indeed was a sign of their commitment to who they were.

As I see it, we will soon be denied our right to stand guardian over Tutereinga, and the current developer will seek to push his legal right to build on our wāhi tapu. If this proves to be the case, listen for the call from Pirirākau to come and join us. There roads beyond the courts that our ancestors have marked out before us.