Debate Over Protect Pūtiki Exposes Systematic Injustices Against Māori In New Zealand

A group of four who had been occupying Pūtiki Bay/Kennedy Point on the Southside of Waiheke Island, New Zealand, were removed by 20 police on the 21st of August. This eviction comes just after New Zealand went into a snap lockdown on the 17th of August following one case of the delta variant being discovered in the community. The evicted group, who are members of the indigenous activist group Protect Pūtiki, have reported on their Instagram that they were removed under claims that they were breaching lockdown guidelines. However, the group itself says that they had formed a 4-person bubble and had been following level four regulations.

The group has called out Jacinda Ardern, the New Zealand Prime Minister, on their Instagram, stating, “This is disgusting @jacindaarden – this is NOT uniting against COVID-19. This is using NZ police during a dangerous time to deploy numbers from Auckland Central, the hotspot itself, to a peaceful and contained occupation on a Covid free offshore island.” Under a caption on the following post they wrote, “This is Police using the lockdown to extend colonial violences of the eviction onto our people who are complying by the same standard of staying home as everybody else.” 

Protect Pūtiki is an activist group that was established in response to a plan for the development of a marina in Pūtiki Bay/Kennedy Point, which is located on the Southside of Waiheke Island. The group is spearheaded by the Ngāti Pāoa Trust Board and is supported by iwi members, residents, and environmental groups. The planned development, known as the Kennedy Point Marina project, is set to include around 180 berths (150 of which have already been sold), a floating car park, onshore facilities like sewage and containment, and a cafe according to The Spinoff. The Auckland Council granted the resource consent for the development of the marina in 2017. At the time a resident’s group known as Save Kennedy Point (SKP) was established to fight the proposal. They went through the Environment Court, High Court, Court of Appeal, and finally the Supreme Court who in April of 2021 dismissed the SKP’s application for an appeal. The group has since disbanded, but has shown support for the occupation led by Protect Pūtiki. 

Protect Pūtiki’s main objective during their occupation has been the protection of kororā, or little blue penguins as they are known in English. According to the Department of Conservation, kororā are the world’s smallest species of penguin and their population has been declining in New Zealand due to coastal development destroying and disturbing their natural habitat. Nowadays you will mainly find them on offshore islands like Waiheke. The kororā inhabit the rock breakwater wall and surrounding natural environment at Kennedy Point. The developers themselves claim that no harm will come to the penguins and that they have a detailed plan to manage the effect on the penguins that were put in place by an independent ecologist. However, local environmental groups like Forest and Bird and Waiheke Native Bird Rescue remained concerned. Furthermore, the local iwi, Ngāti Pāoa, have criticized the science behind this plan as it has not included mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge), despite the fact that kororā are taonga (treasure/culturally valuable) to the iwi. 

At the heart of the issue lies the Treaty of Waitangi. As Auckland Central Member of Parliament Chlöe Swarbrick told The Spinoff, the “protection of penguins is a very important issue, but on top of this it’s very important to recognize this as a Treaty of Waitangi issue.” The Treaty of Waitangi, or Te Tiriti o Waitangi as it is known by its Māori name, was signed between the British Crown and a large number of Māori chiefs in 1840. The treaty is widely regarded as the constitutional document that establishes and guides the relationship between the Crown in New Zealand (who is represented by the government) and the indigenous peoples, the Māori. The treaty has three articles that hold slightly different meanings in the English and the te reo Māori translations. 

In the English version of the Treaty, Article One states that the Māori agree to cede all rights and powers of sovereignty to the Crown. However, in Te Tiriti o Waitangi, Article One agrees to the Māori ceding Kāwanatanga (governorship) to the Crown. Article Two in the English version guarantees the Māori Chiefs exclusive and undisturbed possession of their lands, forests, fisheries, and other property, as well as giving the Crown the exclusive right to buy Māori land. For Te Tiriti, Māori were granted tino rangatiratanga (which can be translated as chieftainship, autonomy, or self-determination) over their whenua (land) and taonga (treasures). It also granted the Crown a right to buy Māori land, but not the exclusive right. Since the signing of the Treaty it has been widely agreed by historians that despite the English translation of Article One, the Māori never agreed to cede sovereignty to the Crown. At the very least, they saw the Treaty as an acknowledgment of an equal partnership. 

As an acknowledgment of the relationship laid out in the Treaty of Waitangi, under the Resource Management Act (RMA) any resource consents must be granted in consultation with the local iwi. Ngāti Pāoa is the iwi of Pūtiki Bay, and is represented by two different boards. The Ngāti Pāoa Trust Board and the Ngāti Pāoa Iwi Trust. In 2018, when the consultation process was occurring, Auckland Council informed the developers that the only group they needed to consult was the Ngāti Pāoa Iwi Trust. A Māori appellate court judgment found Auckland Council failed to recognize Ngāti Trust Board as a mandated representative under the RMA. Ngāti Pāoa Trust Board believes they should have been consulted and blame Auckland Council for their oversight. The developers themselves believe this has left them between a rock and a hard place. A spokesperson for the Kennedy Point Marina company, Kitt Littlejohn, said that they have spent five years planning the project and investing in development after being granted a consent. Protect Pūtiki has said they will not stop their occupation until this consent has been revoked. 

Protect Pūtiki organizer Emily Māia Weiss told The Spinoff that Pūtiki Bay is important to Ngāti Pāoa because it “is space we whakapapa to.” This occupation is aimed at the protection of their ancestral moana (sea), mātauranga (intellectual), and whakapapa (genealogical) connections. As they whakapapa to this space, according to Māori tradition, they have the responsibility of kaitiakitanga (guardianship) over the land and sea which is threatened by the proposed development. Since the start of the occupation, there has been a number of reported instances of violence on both sides. On the 15th of July, for example, Protect Pūtiki reported on Instagram that 100 police had been sent to arrest four kaitiaki (guardians) for trespassing. Protect Pūtiki’s response to the trespassing allegations has been to question how the members of the iwi could be trespassing on their own moana. 

The issue highlights the inherent bias the RMA places against tangata whenua (people of the land). As Chlöe Swarbrick has put it, “the RMA doesn’t place enough emphasis on relationships with mana whenua.” There needs to be greater responsibility for developers and local government to engage with iwi on a level of partnership. There needs to be a greater appreciation of mātauranga Māori and a deeper commitment to honor the principle of Te Tiriti. This is something the RMA has long been acknowledged as inadequate at doing. In recognition of the flaws of the RMA, the current government is in the process of repealing and replacing the RMA with the Natural and Built Environment Act (NBA), the Strategic Planning Act, and the Climate Change Adaptation Act which would all have a central role for iwi. For example, the NBA would replace the wording of the RMA which required decision-makers to “take into account” the principles of Te Tiriti with “to give effect to.” 

Such changes are a welcome development. However, how much change this will create in practice will depend on who defines what “giving effect to” will look like. This means that for systematic change to occur, more Māori need to be in positions of power in these decision-making processes so that these decisions can be made through a Māori lens. There also needs to be greater education of te ao Māori (the Māori world) and te reo Māori (the Māori language) amongst council members, planners, developers, and anyone engaging with iwi, which includes a respect for and understanding of mātauranga Māori. The recent amendment to the Local Government Act that has made it easier for Māori wards to be established on local councils is a step in the right direction in this regard. As High Court Justice Matthew Palmer has said, “Māori political representation is the most significant manifestation of the Treaty of Waitangi in New Zealand’s constitution in reality.”  Without proper representation, there cannot be the proper protection of Māori values, resources, and traditions, and without proper representation, it cannot be said that there is an equal partnership. 

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