Writer’s Ancestral Land

biancabegovichStruggle against NZTA’s claim on Maori land is a ‘history lesson’ for all

By Bianca Begovich

For anyone wanting a history lesson on the Waikanae and Kapiti area, the Maori Land Court hearing for prominent writer Patricia Grace’s application for reservation status on her land was the place to be.

Takamore Trust chairman Ben Ngaia, historian Bruce Sterling and Patricia herself outlined the extensive cultural and historical richness surrounding her ancestral land in the middle of Waikanae, a part of which will be destroyed by the Kapiti Expressway.

Patricia’s ancestor Wiremu Parata was a leader of the Tukurakau region around the Waikanae River.

Along with his involvement in politics and local community initiatives, he also gifted significant parcels of land throughout the Kapiti area.

Wi Parata the peacemaker

Local disputes between not only Maori, but also between Pakeha and Maori were resolved by Wi Parata.  There is no doubt he was a great and influential man – Waikanae township was once called ‘Parata town’.  His Lindauer portrait presided over the hearing.

The Tukurakau village was an extensive settlement around the area about half way down Te Moana Road in Waikanae.

The Takamore Trust oversees the Waahi Tapu (sacred) area which had not only tangible resources such as cultivation areas, springs, buildings and burial grounds, but is also rich in spiritual and cultural history as provided by the genealogical connections there.

In the late 1800s, the church and the Wharenui (meeting house) were removed from the Tukurakau village area and re-established up towards the railway, where they are today.

Carvings were removed and buried on the Pitama block, which is adjacent to Ms Grace’s land and is also losing a section to the Expressway.

Local man’s evidence

A local man, Mr Graham Coe, also presented evidence about his boyhood growing up in the area.

He spoke of roaming the sand dunes behind Ms Grace’s land and of the skulls which rolled down the hills every time a windstorm blew.

He also told us how he once came across a skeleton in the lower dune at the back of the land, and that he also often found greenstone and adze (ancient tools) as he was exploring the area.

Ben Ngaia, the chairman of the Takamore Trust, confirmed there were significant burials there.

During the flu epidemic of the early 1900s (1919/1920 – Ed), the Waikanae community asked if they could bury their people in the Takamore precinct and a track was made around the sand dunes to provide access to these mass burials.

Mr Ngaia explained that permission was granted in the interests of Manaakitanga, a Kaupapa which aims to embrace all people in their time of need.

The evidence made it clear that the area surrounding Ms Grace’s land and the Pitama block is of extremely rich cultural and historical significance for both Pakeha and Maori.

Waahi  Tapu’s significance

NZTA experts agree that the Waahi Tapu area is a site of cultural and historical significance.

Mr Ngaia explained that the land is important not only for what is visible today, but because of the rich history surrounding it.  It is also the last of once extensive Maori-owned land in the area.

Ms Grace is applying for reservation status because she wishes to keep the land ‘so that it can tell it’s stories to the nation.’

She pointed out that while Maori freehold land can usually only be sold to a relative, it is ironic that the Crown can disinherit her heirs via the Public Works Act.

It is her wish that the application for reservation status will make the land inalienable, including to the Crown.

She spoke of the additional irony that, while Iwi, the Crown and the Waitangi Tribunal are currently working hard to resolve past Maori land disputes, the Public Works Act and the Kapiti Expressway ensure that land grievances continue.

NZTA’s focus on buildings

NZTA’s lawyer questioned each witness extensively about where they thought the buildings would have been located on the Tukurakau land.

His focus on buildings, rather than the overwhelming evidence outlining the intangible richness of the area, highlights his lack of understanding about the intrinsic value of historical land.

This, in conjunction with the sacking of NZTA’s archeological expert by the Takamore Trust due to her dubious handling of a discovery of some bones, as well as the NZTA Alliance’s Maori Resource negotiator operating outside his mandate to influence discussions over the Pitama land, are some of the reasons that there are huge issues around this area.

It is no surprise that Ms Grace didn’t have an opportunity to present evidence at the Board of Inquiry for the Expressway either.  She simply wasn’t contacted by NZTA at the time.

NZTA’s proposed mitigation to ‘restore the Mauri’ (life force) of the Waahi Tapu area which will be destroyed by the Expressway makes no mention of any mitigation for either Ms Grace’s or the Pitama land.

Three issues for Ms Grace

Ms Grace has three issues to deal with in taking Kaitiakitanga (guardianship) of her ancestral land.

One is the application for reservation status through the Maori Land Court (which has nothing to do with NZTA), another is her objection to the taking of her land for the Expressway (which will be dealt with in the Environment Court later this month) and the last is an objection to the moving of a gas pipeline which runs through the middle of her land and will be impacted by the Expressway.

While it is unclear why NZTA experts were even called to present evidence at Ms Grace’s application for reservation status on her land at the Maori Land Court, what is clear is that the issues against the Kapiti Expressway continue to stack up.

The mishandling of buried bones, undocumented meetings, and mistreatment of one of NZ’s foremost Maori writers are just some of the long list of unresolved issues still faced before the Kapiti Expressway is built.

While NZTA is forging ahead with their ‘preparatory works’ to make it look like the road is a done deal, the issues which continue to plague the Expressway ensure that any actual start date is months, if not years away.

This is probably the reason that NZTA initially called this route their ‘least preferred option’ before the National Government forced them to proceed with a route which they had already discounted due to its increasingly more obvious severance, cultural, environmental and poor urban planning problems.