Tensions continue to simmer in Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, where hundreds of Māori are occupying land in a stand-off over plans to build a housing project on ancestral lands.
Periodic clashes between police and activists have led to arrests, and on Monday the police increased their presence on the site as fears escalated.
The Ihumātao Peninsula was settled by the Māori in the 14th century, but in the 19th century the land was confiscated by the government and sold to farmers.
In 2016, it was sold to New Zealand’s largest builder Fletcher Building Ltd, which plans to build 480 houses on the site. Protestors led by Save Our Unique Landscape (SOUL) began occupying the area after the plan was announced.
In 2017, the United Nations weighed in and said that the Māori had not been adequately consulted about the land. In 2018, an unsuccessful appeal over the transfer of the land was made to New Zealand’s Environment Court.
Activists say the land is too valuable to lose, but authorities insist the deal has been made and they will not interfere, Britain’s Guardian newspaper reported on Saturday.
“To me, this land is the very essence of who I am, it’s where my identity lies,” the co-leader SOUL, Pania Newton told the Guardian. “How much more do we have to sacrifice at the hands of capitalism, at the hands of the crown, before it is all gone?”
On Monday, Newton said the police rammed her with a gate, pushing her over.
The police disputed Newton’s version of events. They said they had increased their presence at the site after the protesters said they intended to move past cordons.
“In response to this, police [were] required to increase our presence at the site,” said Manukau District Commander Superintendent Jill Rogers. “Officers had to be taken off their other duties to come to the protest site.”
On July 27, Reuters reported that New Zealand’s Labor Prime Minister Jacinda Arden said that no building will take place at Ihumātao while the government and other parties try to work out a solution, but she has not yet visited the site.
An estimated 5,000 people gathered at the site that day and put up more than 50 tents, Reuters said. Protests were also held in other cities.