The land protectors at Ihumaatao are still standing strong, with numbers holding steady and police agreeing to decrease numbers. The government are conducting talks too. Here are some thoughts.
It’s not entirely clear what the Kiingitanga expect to achieve after agreeing to facilitate talks between SOUL and the Te Kawerau-aa-Maki Tribal Authority (TKaM). Is it to repair relationships? Or is it to agree to a mutual solution to end the stand-off? The former is within the movement’s power. I think it’s fair to write that SOUL and TKaM would agree to a kind of tatau pounamu – a peace and restoration of relationships – if it happens under the mana of the Kiingitanga. But the latter (finding a mutual solution to end the stand-off) seems remote, if not impossible with only three tangata whenua parties involved. In truth the only parties with the power to end the stand-off are Fletcher Building, the land owner, and the Crown or Council, the only parties with a realistic prospect of purchasing the land and designating it a reserve, heritage site, or some such. Even if TKaM were to formally withdraw its support for Fletcher Building the construction giant could still go ahead with the 480 home development, perhaps even deciding to return to the original 520-home plan rather than the plan TKaM negotiated down.
Maaori Development Minister Nanaia Mahuta is perhaps the most important person in government right now. The Hauraki Waikato MP is in talks with all of the parties and taking advice on the Crown’s options. There are no good options. Treaty Negotiations Minister Andrew Little is standing firm saying that no solution can happen under a Treaty settlement framework. He’s probably right. In its own settlement legislation the Crown acknowledges three different iwi have “interests” (note not necessarily “rights” which the Crown is careful to avoid recognising) in Ihumaatao. Two iwi in negotiations at the moment are likely to have their “interests” in Ihumaatao acknowledged too. If the Crown were to purchase the land and return it would they have to carve it out five different ways? Each iwi gets a 20 percent interest? Or would some iwi have a stronger interest? This is all obviously impractical, even leaving aside the delicate question of whether it would “re-open” all “full and final settlements”. I mean, how would you prove who has an interest and to what extent (would TKaM get a 30 percent interest instead of 20…)? The only solution is the one SOUL has pushed for over the years. Acquire the land and designate it a reserve of some kind. To paraphrase Pania Newton, the land should be enjoyed by all five million New Zealanders, not 480 millionaires.
That last sentence is particularly important and reveals one of the most important aspects of the struggle at Ihumaatao. This is a class struggle as much as it is a “Maaori” struggle. SOUL’s discursive triumph is in making it perfectly clear that protecting Maaori land benefits all New Zealanders, and that capitalist development can be a danger not only to the land but to its people too. The kaitiaki site itself is notable for the total absence of capitalism. No money changes hands. No one is buying or selling to keep warm or to keep fed or to keep the spirits up. Everything happens on the understanding mutual dependence – between people themselves and between people and the land – is necessary to social and environmental wellbeing. And the people keep coming and coming, reinforcing that principle and reaffirming what the working class in this country looks like. It’s Maaori, Paakehaa, Indian, Pinoy, Taiwanese, Chinese, Samoan, Tongan, Christian, Muslim, atheist, gender diverse, and much, much more.
I’ve made this point on maaui street before, and it’d be remiss not to make it again. This is a women-led struggle. From Pania and her cousins on one side to Nanaia and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on the other. Even now we can all tell that this is historic, and from this point there’s never going to be any going back. The government, and especially Labour, need to realise this. Doing nothing, or through their own incompetence accidently allowing development to go ahead, will be fatal for Labour in the Tamaki Makaurau electorate and it’ll hurt their chances in Te Tai Tokerau too. Deputy Prime Minister Kelvin Davis would still pull through if the candidate were Hone Harawira – that I’m sure of - but if someone else were to challenge up north (someone with a clean record) tapping into anger at the Ngaapuhi settlement drama and Ihumaatao, we’d have a real race on our hands. Hauraki Waikato would be much closer than it was in 2017, but Nanaia’s personal mana is strong enough that she’d pull through and win under almost any circumstances. The further south you go the safer the seats become, but all it would take to change the government is likely a loss in Tamaki and (possibly but certainly not probably) a loss in Tai Tokerau. Those are the stakes for the government.