On Saturday, my husband, two sons and I headed to Ihumātao, to stand with those occupying the land near Auckland Airport. We parked our car 15 minutes from the site and joined hundreds of others who were either heading to, or heading home from the site.
The atmosphere was friendly and almost festival-like. The sun was shining, and most people were smiling, including the police. People carried water, food, blankets and wood to the occupiers.
Looking around, we were immediately struck by the natural beauty of Ihumātao. Rolling hills and ancient rock walls give way to small maunga and a sparkling view of the Manukau harbor. Million-dollar views indeed. This is sacred land, and the thought of 480 houses being squeezed onto this breathtaking site was distressing enough in itself to justify the trip.
But this was not the reason for our visit. This land was confiscated from its Māori guardians by the Crown in 1863, and in 1869 it was sold to the Wallace family, who then sold it to Fletcher Residential in 2016. Recently, there has been an offer by Fletchers to hand back 8 hectares of land to Māori and to offer 40 homes at a discounted rate for Māori buyers. This deal was negotiated with some local kaumātua, but for years there has been concern. This was spelled out in a United Nations report that recognised that consultation and consent from Māori had not been adequately sought.
Of course there are always two sides to every story, and in cases like this, where conflict has been going on for hundreds of years, things will never be simple.
Read this article by historian Vincent O’Malley to learn more about the history of this area, and the “Trail of Tears” that Māori have walked as they were exiled from the land of their ancestors, and given no proper reparation after hundreds of years of injustice.
As a Lebanese New Zealander I have always sought to dig deeper than the mainstream, to understand what is happening in the world. My extended family on both my Lebanese and Pākehā sides believe strongly in social justice and I have grown up marching against the Springbok tour, the Iraq war, and now marching with my children on behalf of our environment.
My husband and his family have only recently connected back with their Māoritanga, after colonisation and its legacy of shame left them disconnected from their Ngāti Kahungunu heritage.
So, like many New Zealand families we are a pack of mongrels…a bit of this and bit of that, but we have a deep love for our country and for our land.
This deep love is what drew us to Ihumātao at the weekend. We wanted to show our solidarity with tangata whenua who are protecting this ancient land. We came armed with bags of fresh fruit and we were welcomed with open arms and made to feel like we belonged here.
And looking around we saw every different kind of Kiwi. There were Arab Kiwis, Pasifika Kiwis, Pākehā Kiwis, African Kiwis, we saw Black Power members and priests and hippies, and every other demographic you can think of.
When we first arrived I bumped into my two goddaughters, both in their early twenties, both studying at university. They came with separate groups of friends, and made themselves instantly at home. When I hugged them I understood that our future is in good hands.
We noticed that the young people who gathered at Ihumātao, talked to each other and walked around learning about the site, and listened to the speakers on the main stage or the musicians and performers who entertained the crowds.
Some made the rounds of the site quietly carrying the most thought-provoking banners, and others volunteered in the kai tent, or helped with cleaning up the site. Many were taking photos, but none were glued to their screens. These young people were in community and they were fully present, and that was something rare and valuable to see.
Ihumātao is a place for all New Zealanders. It is a place for us to learn about our history and to be inspired about our young people and their vision as well as their ability to organise.
There is a feeling of safety, as if those in charge are thinking carefully about what is needed to make this a comfortable and functional communal space. Ihumātao is a drug, alcohol and smoke free zone. There are posters everywhere to remind those visiting that this is a sacred and peaceful space, and that respect for each other and the land is a pre-requisite for your entry.
Ihumātao has many kai tents offering free and healthy food to whoever needs it. There are free blankets, warm clothes and even toys to keep the kids entertained. There is a tent for making banners where all are welcome, a decked out media tent and lots of great music.
My friend said it was like a Māori Glastonbury, only better.
I had to agree.
All the people we met at Ihumātao were welcoming and humble.
It was first and foremost for us an education about our history. We were able to witness first hand, the other side of the story, not told in our schools or in our mainstream history books.
The fact that this beautiful land had been confiscated from Māori who legally lived here is a part of New Zealand’s history that must be understood by all Kiwis if we are going to move forward in a functional and sustainable way.
For mainstream Pākehā, this uncomfortable knowledge, can, for the most part, be easily avoided. This is the main reason that I urge you to take your children, your respect and your humility to Ihumātao.
There you will find people of all ages, with hearts wide open, wanting to share their history, their waiata, their karakia and the beauty of their land with you.
On the speaking stage are photographs of ancestors who watch over all those who stand to speak. There is important dialogue taking place on this stage. It is important for our whole country and especially for our children.
One of my favourite banners at Ihumātao read, “We are our ancestors’ wildest dreams”. This rung true as I watched my boys learning the difficult truth about our land and our history and what it really means to be tangata whenua of this young nation.
If you go to Ihumātao be sure you take an offering with you. It might be water, food, blankets, tents or gazebos, firewood, or supplies to make banners, but don’t come empty-handed.
We owe courageous people occupying this site our respect. It is their vision and their willingness to stand up for what they believe in that is the start of a powerful grassroots movement in this country and around the world.
We have had enough – the old ways are not working.
Take your kids to Ihumātao and get a glimpse of a future we can all be proud of.