Is stealing Waitara Lands twice not enough?

I read today the news report related to the Waitara Lands Bill ‘Call for councils to step aside on Waitara Lands Bill compensation’ published by Stuff on line. (https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/98339905/call-for-councils-to-step-aside-on-waitara-lands-bill-compensation)

I am continually amazed that no matter how often media are asked to speak to appropriate people about hapū matters in Waitara they continue to ignore those requests. Where both Peter Moeau and Grant Knuckey are past iwi board members the statements made in the article do not reflect the views of many other Te Ātiawa descendants that live on the Pekapeka Block and others stolen lands in the region.

The New Plymouth District Council (Waitara Lands) Bill has been through the first two readings in the House and through a Select Committee process. There have, as is noted by Nanaia Mahuta in the article, been some changes to the Bill. However the current version of the Bill is not balanced, and nor does it reflect the desire of Otaraua and Manukorihi hapū and Te Ātiawa iwi that presented in the Select committee process for the return of the lands unencumbered to the hapū.

The call for the lands to be handed over to leaseholders is absurd. Where in any other contractual leasing agreement does the government then legislate for the leaseholder to be given ownership. One can only imagine the uproar that would come from wealthy property owners if that was the case, however it seems that when it comes to stolen Māori lands that this is an acceptable proposition to councils and the government.

Where I acknowledge there are issues for the leaseholders, which includes my own whānau who have paid lease on stolen lands for over 50 years, a lease is a lease. They signed a lease and did so knowing that they would be leasing on stolen lands. Stolen Māori lands. Stolen hapū lands. Stolen iwi lands. To then have the New Plymouth City Council and the Taranaki Regional Council sell the lands to those same leaseholders (or other third parties) and profit even more millions off the backs of our people is another act of confiscation and oppression. To advocate the ‘handing over’ of the land to leaseholders is another act of confiscation and oppression.

The confiscation of land in Taranaki and marginalisation of Māori control and autonomy was a deliberate act of violence against our people. The lands at Waitara were illegally, immorally and violently removed from Māori hands not once but twice (Waitangi Tribunal 1996).

With this bill we are now facing a third wave of colonial dispossession.

The initial removal of the Pekapeka Block from hapū hands resulted in armed struggle and our people suffered considerably. Then, to add further abuse the colonial government ‘returned’ the lands only to be confiscated again under the Suppression of Rebellion Act. The Taranaki Report, WAI 143 (1996) states. “The retraction, it seems to us, was simply play-acting; the fabrication of a scene to place blame on the former Governor, so that the new Governor might restart the war with a clean slate” (p.91).

The conflicts that resulted from the direct attacks by the Crown upon our people over this particular block of land are considered to be the first land wars between Māori and the colonizing forces in Aotearoa. Mururaupatu, the theft, confiscation and dispossession of our lands is a common history that stretches across Taranaki and the country. Waitara was violently taken from our people and transferred by the government to local council. It was repackaged as council lands, it was represented as private land. Hapū and iwi of Te Ātiawa have lived on and paid lease to successive town and city councils to live on our own lands.

Over time we have seen confiscated lands become re-named as the ‘Waitara Endowment Lands’ and is now considered ‘council land’ and under the current Treaty Settlement Process remains alienated. The renaming of our lands is a part of a colonial process of selective memory, it serves to deny and invisibilise the truth of what has happened on our lands. To refer to stolen lands as ‘endowment lands’ is a lie. We are the original peoples, we are the people of the land, we did not gift our lands, it was taken through violence and force. Waitara lands are not ‘endowment lands’ and no matter how often the local councils or the Crown referred to our lands in that manner, they will never be called ‘endowment lands’ by our people. The renaming of the land by colonisers serves to render its history invisible.

The current rendition of the Bill continues to make invisible this history and deny the acts of violence and illegal dispossession of the lands in Waitara. The absurdity of this Bill can be see in the overall processed of the Crown and councils which at a most fundamental level is as follows:
• Crown steals the land and wages war on hapū and iwi
• Crown gifts stolen lands to its local government allies
• Councils lease lands and profit in millions of dollars through leases and fraudulent sales of some land blocks
• The Crown and Council collude in Treaty Settlement process to proposed that iwi ‘buy back’ through Treaty settlement funds the Waitara block
• Councils in an act that is in direct opposition from hapū seek to freehold lands
• The New Plymouth District Council (Waitara Lands) Bill is drafted for sale of stolen Waitara lands to leaseholders
• The Bill is rejected by the hapū and vast majority of submitters
• Select committee recommend amendments to the Bill however there is no return of the Pekapeka block or other Waitara stolen lands

The idea that any outcome that does not include the return of Waitara lands to hapū is in my view unacceptable. The current version of the Bill proposes that the council sell the lands and that the funds support hapū buying other lands. So the expectation is that hapū will have to buy back lands, with funds that come from the sale of their original homelands that were taken through invasion, war and confiscation. There is much wrong with that scenario.

The use of the funds by the Councils is advocated to provide for the benefit of all in Waitara so again stolen Māori lands are being exploited for the benefit of all. Do the Councils and the Crown not understand that Pākehā and others living on stolen hapū lands have already benefited over the past 160 years? The lands were not forcibly taken from leaseholders or their descendants, the lands were taken from hapū and iwi of Waitara and our descendants. It is time for the lands to be returned for the hapū and iwi to find a means by which to re-balance our lives, to reconnect our people to our lands, to regain a grounding and basis for being self-determining on our own lands.

We need to voice to this Labour, Greens and New Zealand First government:

No, the lands should not be handed to leaseholders. Not now. Not ever.

No, the lands should not be sold for the New Plymouth and Regional councils to profit and to fund activities that they should already be funding through their illegal colonial rates system.

No, the hapū should not be forced to buy lands on the margins of their original territories while councils and others benefit from living next to our ancestral river and coastal areas. Hapū and iwi of Te Ātiawa should not be fringe dwellers on their own lands.

No, the current bill is not balanced. It is the third act of confiscation of the Pekapeka Block and Waitara lands.

This new government has an opportunity in their first 100 days to make a difference.
• To not buy into the idea that a lease is anything more than a lease.
• To not allow the New Plymouth and Taranaki Regional councils to continue with their greedy and oppressive approach to Waitara that sees only their interests served
• To not create a context for future generations of our tamariki and mokopuna of hapū and iwi of Waitara living disconnected from their tūrangawaewae
• To not create another act of oppression and trauma on our people.

This new government has an opportunity to say to the hapū and iwi of Waitara that two acts of confiscation of the lands is where it ends, and to not go down in history as the government that perpetuates a third contemporary act of confiscation on Otaraua and Manukorihi hapū and the descendants of Te Ātiawa that seek to hold to the lands of our tupuna.

This government has the opportunity to do what is just for the hapū and iwi of Waitara. Me hoki whenua mai.

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