Ihumātao: ‘Why would we pay the thief for our own land?’

The camp ground at Ihumātao - Photo: RNZ / Leigh-Marama McLachlan

Māori at Ihumātao say the land should be gifted back, and iwi should not have to buy back what was once stolen from them.

Media had reported that iwi Waikato-Tainui were going to buy the Fletcher-owned land that was being occupied to stop 480 houses from being built on the 32ha site.

However, a spokesperson for Waikato-Tainui has denied that there is any deal, although the iwi are not ruling out buying the land.

District Māori Warden for South Auckland Thomas Henry said that iwi should not have to buy back stolen land.

"If the land was confiscated, it shouldn't be - why should it be bought back, it should be given back to the people, given back to the rightful owners - I think that's what we are all here for."

The land at Ihumātao was taken "by proclamation" in 1863 because the iwi would not swear allegiance to the Queen.

Buchanan Cullan, from the Far North, has been living at Ihumātao with his whānau since the beginning, and said he is not going anywhere until the Kīngitanga flag came down, marking the end of the occupation.

"There's still nothing in writing ... [and] the home people haven't come back to tell us what's really happened and we still have the Kīngitanga flag flying at the ātea."

He is concerned that if an iwi corporation like Waikato-Tainui, which is worth $1 billion, bought the land it would leave "grass roots people out in the cold", and he also does not think it is fair Māori should pay for the land at all.

"Why would we pay the thief for our own land?"

One wahine camping at Ihumātao said Waikato-Tainui should only buy the land at Ihumātao if it let mana whenua make the decisions.

"I wouldn't agree if [Waikato-Tainui] were to develop themselves, and come up with ideas themselves, I hope that they do give it to mana whenua and let them do what they need to do."

The camp ground at Ihumātao.

The camp ground at Ihumātao. Photo: RNZ / Leigh-Marama McLachlan

It has been over a month since people began occupying the whenua at Ihumātao with about 40 or so people still living there.

A few of the campers have packed up to head up north, or to get some rest after a month of living in tents, battling the elements.

Thomas Henry said that people would still remain though, but it was important that people got rest for the next stage of the occupation and whatever that might bring.

"They need to go rejuvenate themselves, or go to the doctors and make sure that they are all well and we are telling people to come back, once they've had that break away to come back, we still want to have that support."

He thanked the more than 120 Māori Wardens who had worked at the site, some who had come as far as Wellington.

There are 10 Māori wardens on the site at all times, but the police presence has almost completely dropped off with only a handful of officers walking around.

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