A Timeline for Ihumātao - Survey Pegs on Ancestral Whenua

Image by Matt Rosenberg (twitter: @mattrosenberg_)

Image by Matt Rosenberg (twitter: @mattrosenberg_)

By Conor Masila

Ihumātao is located next to the Ōtuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve in Māngere on the eastern fringes of the Manukau Harbour and was one of the first places in Tāmaki Makaurauthat Māori settlers arrived at and settled. As part of the adjacent, but legally distinct Ōtuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve. It is one of the last surviving areas where stone walls used by Māori for growing crops still exist. 


New Zealand has a shorter human history than any other country. Archaeologists point to the international significance of Ihumātao as the first point of arrival for Māori in the last country to be settled as part of the Great Human Migration.


Graeme Campbell, an Auckland conservator for the Department of Conservation in the late 1990s, was involved in negotiating the amalgamation of properties that made up the Ōtuataua Stonefields, and he likens the 30,000 strong Māori population that inhabited this area to a proto-Polynesian city


As Auckland’s oldest settlement dating back around 800 years Ihumātao is also a site on land that for mana whenua (local Māori), embodies sources of identity and is considered Wahi Tapu or sacred to mana whenua. Ihumātao contains pre-European Maori burial caves and middens, New Zealand’s oldest stone-walled field systems, windbreaks, heat-conservation areas for tropical crops, and the foundations of ancient Whare. Ihumātao’s landscape is also one of New Zealand’s longest continuously inhabited Papakainga, with this unbroken settlement threatened by the proposed development.


Colonial forces confiscated Ihumātao by proclamation under the New Zealand Settlements Act in 1863 as part of their invasion of the Waikato. This drove the mana whenua from their lands leaving them destitute and landless. After the whenua was acquired by Crown grant, in 1867, it was then on-sold to a Pakeha settler family whose family remained in ownership of the whenua (land) for the last 150 years.


In 2014, the government in partnership with Auckland Council designated Ihumātao as a Special Housing Area with the developer-friendly provisions of the Special Housing Areas Act 2013 used to bypass concerns held by mana whenua. In 2016 the whenua at Ihumātao was sold to Fletcher Residential, who plan to build 480 houses on the site. In November that year members of the community started occupying Ihumātao to protect the whenua from the proposed development, sleeping in makeshift housing.

For over three years, the Save Our Unique Landscape (SOUL) campaign has peacefully occupied the whenua as kaitiaki to raise awareness and build public support for the prevention of Fletcher Residential's proposed development. In 2017 SOUL presented their case to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racism and Discrimination which recommended in a report that proper consultation with all affected Maori should be implemented. The committee also recommends that the New Zealand government evaluate the plan’s compliance with Tiriti ō Waitangi and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. 

In September of that year, Heritage New Zealand approved Fletcher Residential’s application to develop a 480-home community at the Ōruarangi Road site.

In 2018 the Environment Court highlighted significant flaws in New Zealand’s heritage legislation. In this decision, the Court was prevented from considering the value of the cultural heritage landscape when reviewing Heritage New Zealand’s decision to grant Fletcher Residential the authority to destroy Maori archaeological heritage sites at Ihumātao. 

Tensions rose to boiling point last Tuesday the 23rd of July, when peaceful protesters occupying the land refused to comply with an eviction order. Over the week that followed, hundreds of supporters flocked to Ihumatao in a show of solidarity, many setting up camp for multiple nights. On Wednesday, protestors blocked streets outside Parliament building to show support for mana whenua. Police presence at the site is also estimated to have been in the hundreds. Although protest action remained peaceful, reportedly 10 people were arrested over the course of the week for obstructing police and similar offences. On Friday the 26th of July, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern released a statement that all building on the site would be halted until Government and other parties negotiate a solution. At the time of writing, the expected outcome of this conflict remains uncertain.

In the meantime, the Government has the mammoth task of determining which value system will guide their decision-making. 80% of Heritage New Zealand’s protected sites are of colonial design, with only 10% of Heritage New Zealand protected sites being Wahi Tapu. Do we want to be known as a nation that values one culture’s form of heritage over others?

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