Ihumatao: Winning Back Stolen Maori Land

Gordon Campbell on the Ihumatao dispute | Scoop News

Ake, Ake, Ake: The Story of Ihumātao

Directed by Whatanui Flavell

Film Review

This three part documentary series describes a successful land occupation that successfully blocked (in 2020) the conversion of illegally confiscated Māori land into a private housing development. All three episodes can be viewed free at the Māori TV website.

Part 1 describes the history of Ihumātao from its first settlement by Māori 1,000 years ago. Owing to its volcanic soil, it became rich agricultural land, providing food for iwi throughout the North Island .

Organizers of the recent occupation describe the brutal 1863 eviction of their great grandparents from 11,000 acres by British troops to be sold to European settlers. Of the 11,000 acres, only 38 hectares remains undeveloped. Prior to 2015, it was publicly owned (by Auckland Council).

In 2015, local iwi began passively occupying the land when they learned that Auckland Council had declared it a  Special Housing Area (SHA) status without public notification. The 2013 SHA law (later repealed) allowed regional authorities to release rural land for development without going through the formal consent process.

Auckland Council subsequently sold the land to Fletcher Building after approving their proposal to build 520 houses.

For the first four years, occupiers pursued all legal avenues to stop the housing development and get their land returned. This included filing a claim under urgency with the Waitangi Tribunal;* filing petitions with Auckland Council, Mayor Phil Goff and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern; and requesting the Māori Select Affairs Committee to intercede with the prime minister.


Part 2 begins when the police present the occupiers with an eviction notice in early 2019. Together with a large contingent of European supporters, they begin planning and training for a nonviolent occupation of the land.

On July 23, 2019, 100 cops show up to execute the eviction order, and hundreds of supporters from all over New Zealand arrive to support local iwi. While the adults focus on preventing police from closing the public road, children race through the adjacent paddocks adjacent to plant Tino Rangatiratanga flags atop the volcanic plateau central to the disputed land. Adult protestors respond by spilling out into the paddocks and pitching tents.


Part 3 describes how thousands of supporters continue to arrive from around the country, as well as sending blankets, warm clothes, firewood, food and money for the continuing occupation.

The Māori king visits the occupation in mid-2020 and agrees to mediate between iwi on different sides of the issue. After winning his support for their demands, they request that the government buy the land back from Fletcher’s and invite the prime minister to visit.

Although she declines the invitation, she agrees to stop the housing development from proceeding without formal negotiations to resolve the issue.

In December 2020, two months after the parliamentary election, the government agrees to buy Ihumātao from Fletchers and to establsh a Ropu Whakahaere to decide the future of Ihumātao. The Ropu will consist of a majority of Māori members from affected iwi, as well as Auckland Council and government representatives.

Although the occupiers have carried out extensive habitat restoration during the five-year occupation, the Ropu is given a mandate to “consider” housing.


*The Waitangi Tribunal is a New Zealand permanent commission of inquiry established under the 1975 Treaty of Waitangi Act. It’s charged with investigating and making recommendations on claims brought by Māori regarding confiscated land.

The series can be viewed free on the Māori TV website for the next few weeks.


The New Zealand Wars: Parihaka and the Birth of Nonviolent Resistance

The New Zealand Wars Part 5: The East Coast Wars

Directed by Stephen Tainui (2017)

Film Review

Part 5 mainly covers the East Coast wars between 1865-72. Triggered by the Māori murder of a missionary caught spying for the Armed Constabulary, these wars killed more unarmed civilians than the earlier conflicts.

In 1866, despite fighting alongside government forces against Hauhau members of Pai Marire movement, the Māori leader Te Kooti was accused of espionage and imprisoned (without trial), along with captive Hauhau in the Chatham Islands.* Led by Te Kooti, 300 prisoners overwhelmed their guards, seized a supply ship, and forced the crew to return them to the North Island.

Taking refuge in the Urewera Mountains, they survived three unsuccessful attempts to recapture them. Eventually defeated at Ngātapa pā, Te Kooti and his remaining supporters retreated to King Country – still regarded as sovereign Mäori land under the protection of the Mäori king.

In 1870, government forces ambushed Te Kooti and his remaining supporters after luring them to Rotorua under the false pretense of peace negotiations. After Te Kooti himself escaped to the Urewera mountains, the government undertook a brutal campaign of burning farms and slaughtering local Tuhoe who supported him. Nine years later he received a formal pardon and a plot of land (belonging to another iwi) to facilitate government plans to open up King Country to European settlement.

Although most historians date the end of the New Zealand wards as 1873, Mäori continued to exert sovereign control over discrete areas of New Zealand for an extended period.

King Country remained closed to Europeans until the mid-1880s, when iwi leaders agreed to the extension of the North Island Main Trunk Railroad.

South Taranaki resisted settler incursions until the peace colony at Parikaha was invaded in 1881 by 1,500 members of the Armed Constabulary. The latter slaughtered many of the men (and raped many of the women) and sentenced surviving men to forced labor in the South Island.

Parts of Northland remained sovereign until 1890, with Māori losing most of their Northland holdings through the Native Land Court and Public Works Act confiscations.

Parts of the Urewa forest also remained off limits to Europeans until heavily militarized police invaded Maungapohatu in 1916.

An important fact not mentioned in this series is that Māori only lost 4 million acres of land in the New Zealand Wars, in contrast to 8 million acres lost (between 1860 and 1890) via the Native Land Court and legal confiscations. In 1890 they still controlled 40% of New Zealand. By 1910 they controlled only 27%;  in 2000 only 4%. See https://nzhistory.govt.nz/media/interactive/maori-land-1860-2000.

*The Chatham Islands form an archipelago in the Pacific Ocean about 800 kilometers east of the South Island of New Zealand.

**Many historians view Parihaka as the birthplace of nonviolent resistance, based on evidence Gandhi was influenced by the history of peace colony’s nonviolent movement. Parihaka’s leaders greeted invading forces by sending children hot with hot bread for the soldiers.