The Ihumatao cause celebre

The issue is simple for many of the Ihumatao protesters. The land on which Fletcher Building wants to construct 480 houses was "confiscated'' in the 19th century and is wahi tapu, sacred ground and archaeologically important. The project must not go ahead and the site must be preserved.

The emotional pull is compelling. Those with leftish and anti-establishment sentiments join in enthusiastically. The evils of colonialism, capitalism and racism are laid bare.

Protesters set up camp three years ago. When police were called this month to remove them so work could begin, the issue hit the headlines. The protest snowballed, even spreading to Dunedin.

One suspects many of these people knew little of the detail. Never mind. Like-minded people spread the righteous word. This has become a cause celebre, for better and for worse.

As such, it is powered by emotion. That is the nature of politics. Evidence, cool heads and facts are secondary at best. Feelings are foremost. That is how Donald Trump operates, and that was the deliberate tactic in the Brexit campaign. Steeped in spreading misinformation, the Brexit leaders consciously targeted "the heart'' and not "the head''.

Likewise, National's pledge at the weekend of $200million for cancer drugs reeks of populism. While acknowledging the serious wrongs of New Zealand's cancer treatment system, particularly the so-called "postcode lottery'', this was an emotional pull. It has the potential to undercut Pharmac and the big drug companies will be most pleased.

Ihumatao has its roots in difficult history. In this way, it is different. Nevertheless, it is all too easy to ignore the complexities of the matter and ride the fervour.

Labour's Maori ministers and the Prime Minister were reluctant to stop it. The iwi's leadership body, the Te Kawerau Iwi Tribal Authority & Settlement Trust, supports the development. It negotiated an agreement with Fletcher Housing and the Makaurau Marae Maori Trust. As part of the agreement, about a quarter of the land is being returned and preserved, adding to the stone fields reserve previously bought as a reserve, and homes will be available for local Maori.

Crucially, the iwi leaders and those they represent are "mana whenua''. This phrase can be translated as the right of a tribe to manage a particular area of land.

No wonder co-chairman of the Labour Maori caucus Willie Jackson said the Government would find itself in serious trouble if it started disregarding iwi mandates on Maori land. He said the iwi settlement had to be respected.

Indeed. Once one settlement is reopened, what about all the others? Once what has become private land - in this case for a very long time - is up for dispute, where does that end?

The Greens, meanwhile, say the Labour line ignores other iwi interests.

The protesters include members of the local iwi, and some see the "mana whenua'' as being split along generation lines, younger members unhappy with the deal.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern changed Labour's approach late last week in response to protest momentum. She attempted to take some heat from disagreements by saying the Government would help the parties get together to sort a way forward. Building would not start until that happened. This is risky and becomes a test for her. Is there more to her than just empathetic words and feelings? Although she stood up successfully over the gun buy-back, this is trickier.

Maybe, a "compromise'' could be worked through whereby Ihumatao is seen as an exceptional case that supposedly does not reopen settlements or undermine the designated mana whenua? Taxpayer money might come to the rescue to be used to buy off Fletcher Building and deals done.

But maybe Ihumatao as an exception to claims on private land is unconvincing and it becomes a forerunner of further demands and demonstrations. Maybe, intra- and inter-tribal differences will further muddy waters. Disaffection could continue for decades, regularly flaring with the latest cause celebre.

Comments

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This is one of the most refreshingly honest articles I have read in a while. Populist politics is very dangerous. We need strong leaders more than ever, and we currently just have public relations people working a broken system. We are living through a time where politics is all about teeth photo opportunities and empty spending promises. Where have all the leaders gone ?

The editorial slipped in its own bit of misinformation on Brexit. The fact of the matter is that the UK Labour Government ratified the Treaty of Lisbon (a significant building block towards a European Federal Government) in 2008 with no democratic mandate and went back on its 2005 manifesto commitment to have a referendum on the EU Constitution. This led to a surge in support for UKIP and forced the hand of Cameron.

new Zealand needs houses clear this rabble out and build

I think the editorial author is perhaps frank about his/her feelings. That has some honesty perhaps. However the arguments are based on information that is sketchy, I would say , and therefore is not inclined to honesty. The discussion about the iwi and mana whenua is inaccurate and glosses over the complexity. Roger - Ihumatao resident.

"The discussion about the iwi and mana whenua is inaccurate and glosses over the complexity."
Please explain what the complexity is. If it's to be a public issue, then we have a right to know.

'Clear out the rabble' is the Right Wing call. They want biffo, force against what they see as The Left. Our police don't operate that way, but if escalation happens, the voluble Right has stirred it up, in absentia.

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