Most of the occupants of Ihumātao had been moved on. The police, numbering at least 30, had finally made good on their promise to remove mana whenua from Kaitiaki Village, enforcing Fletcher Building’s demands ahead of a planned 480-home subdivision.
The land, which sits on fertile isthmus near Auckland Airport, was confiscated by the Crown during the invasion of the Waikato in 1863, and is now under the control of the predominantly foreign-owned Fletcher Building. Protesters have permanently occupied the land for months.
Darren Goodfellow has lived in the area for 20 years. Standing opposite the cordon, he gestured at a line of silent police blocking the entrance to Ihumātao.
“Seems like a good use of police resources, eh? Same old – profits before principle.”
“Hey Aunty, no swearing, no fighting, all right?”
“I’ve had my tangi,” she grumbled, walking away.
By 1pm the police Eagle helicopter was circling, its rotors thwack-thwacking above the crowd assembled at the blockade. There was talk of occupants moving on adjacent land, and on the Ōtuataua Stonefields a group of supporters could be seen. Some wondered if the helicopter was searching the tree lines.
Two small dogs moved in and out of the police line, the only ones given free rein to cross back and forward. The road past Ihumātao is a busy stretch, with what feels like a truck every minute moving past, and periodically there would be horns tooting tautoko.
“Our job as Māori is kaitiaki, offering them a kai. It’s not their fault, they’re just like us. This is the mahi of a kaitiaki. We manaaki everybody on both sides. If they don’t want it, then kei te pai.”
Soon the packet made it behind police lines, eyed suspiciously by two police photographers.
Gathered on the roadside were mothers, babies, kuia, dogs, prams. The community had turned out, and more were expected after school. At 1.30pm the Mana Party flag was raised, skirting underneath the low-hanging power lines. First Union was there, and Save Our Unique Land, and representatives from the Green Party.
Every few minutes a plane left Auckland Airport, and when the wind stopped the sound of saws and hammers and drills came from the growing, growing, growing industrial parks behind the fences hung with protest signs.
“Fletchers building on burial ground,” they said. “Fletchers you shall not pass.”
Soon another paddy wagon arrived, nosing into the driveway. Assembled on deck chairs, the crowd began to stir.
A union rep approached the driver’s door.
“There are already paddy wagons here, what is this needed for? Why does it need to be here?” he said.
“These are for containing criminals. There are no criminals here.”
“This is just like Bastion Point,” Aunty said. “It’s wrong.”
“It was better to do this peacefully,” one said as they left. “We need calm.”
The gesture, said Fletcher chief executive Steve Evans, was “a powerful message to protesters to leave. It was a request from elders who have lived at Ihumātao all their lives – not from Fletcher Building or police, but from those people who know this land, and its importance.”
But not everybody agreed with the sentiment. The occupying group SOUL delivered a petition with almost 20,000 signatures supporting their actions to parliament in March. There are iwi interests on both sides. As protesters began to disperse, a young woman sat her camp chair in front of the police line, staring up at them in defiance.
“You’re complicit in colonisation. The armed constabulary at Parihaka were just doing their job. Apartheid police in South Africa were just doing their job.”
And then, from within the crowd, barely audible: “You’re a waste of tā moko”
The people were cleared from Ihumātao, but the whenua, as ever, remains in conflict. And as reports filtered in later of protesters returning, and arrests being made, it was very clear that the battle for Ihumātao it is far from any resolution.