A battle is brewing in the Bay of Plenty between local iwi Ngāti Awa and the Whakatāne District Council over proposed developments to build a retirement village near the tribe's cultural significant cemetery, Ōpihi Whanaunga Kore.
Ōpihi Whanaunga Kore is a tranquil piece of land situated in the harbour of Whakatāne. It's the final resting place for local iwi of Ngāti Awa. But now it's become a subject of conflict due to the local council's plans to develop it.
Enid Ratahi-Pryor from Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Awa says, “This isn't the white community, this isn't the Whakatāne urupā, this isn't the Whakatāne District Council cemetery, this is a Māori urupā where we practise our traditions. We practise our beliefs in a very different way.”
The cemetery dates back 800 years and is where local tribes of Mataatua buried their chiefs. Adjacent to the urupā is council land where they are proposing to build new developments to boost the region's economy.
Ratahi-Pryor says, “If you look at it, it's an area that can be developed into a sub-division, adjacent to a river, with a marina. I mean you're really looking to a degree at rather expensive luxury type seaside housing alongside the marina.”
Monique Parehuia Keys says, “We're quite realistic as a hapū that the council own the land and that any development they wish to build or go forth with, at the end of the day, will be their doing. What we're hoping is that they take into account the significance and also the access ways.”
In May last year, locals became aware of the council's plans to develop near the area of Ōpihi and build a marina.
“What is it like when you're on the back of the truck with your tūpāpaku and you're going past the rich houses, the café's and people going past enjoying their day and you're going past in a precession? I think it's quite daunting. I think it interrupts our understanding the way in which we want to grieve in our precession,” says Ratahi-Pryor.
In a statement from the council they say, “They are mindful of the cultural sensitivity of the site and would do its utmost to respect the sanctity of the urupā and the privacy of the whānau whose loved ones are buried there."
Ratahi-Pryor says, “It’s how we practise and what we believe is to be normal. That may not necessarily be normal to the sort of people who may actually live in a sub-division of that nature.”
Next month, the Whakatāne District Council will make an appeal to the Environmental Court to proceed with their district plans whilst Ngāti Awa stay firm to oppose any future developments.