National | Ngāti Awa

Ngāti Awa win - Ōpihi Whanaungakore will not be touched for now

A planned peaceful opposition in Whakatāne and a court action have been postponed as Māori and developers start mediation talks.

The issue surrounds land earmarked for a large housing subdivision and retirement village. But the development is next to an ancient urupā, the resting place of Mataatua waka captain Toroa, his daughter Wairaka and grandmother Muriwai.

Te Hunga Rangatahi o Ngāti Awa's Rangipare Beshaw-Ngaropo said it was is a victory for Ngāti Awa, Ōpīhi Whanaunga Kaitiaki trust, Ngāi Tahu trust, and the youth of Ngāti Awa. "We are happy as well as cautious.”

A video depicting the challenges, disappointments, dreams, and aspirations to protect and foster the Ōpihi Whanaungakore whenua was highlighted in a spoken word video on social media from rangatahi around the country.

The video helped to inform others of what is happening on Ōpihi Whanaungakore whenua adjacent to Whakatāne Township over the Ōhinemataroa river. From this, Ngāti Awa rangatahi led the video initiative to support the kaupapa.

Developer MMS GP  called for the adjournment of a court hearing yesterday following the pressure of Ngāti Awa, Maatatua whanui and overwhelming public support.

“They must have felt the call and love of the people of Ngāti Awa, to stop what they were thinking of doing, these cruel deeds,” Beshaw-Ngaropo said.

Now with the court hearing adjourned this will allow more time for Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Awa, the Opihi Whanaungakore Trustees and Ngāi Taiwhakaea to continue discussions with the developers to protect the site.

Whakatāne District Council had sold the land for subdivision in 2017 for nearly $8 million with an agreement that from the 40 hectares of the Bunyan Road, Opihi Block, 10 hectares would be reserved for a retirement village. MMS GP, the developer, has proposed the development will cover 27 hectares, with a 250-unit retirement village and a lot for 240 residential sections.

Between the subdivision and the urupā, they have proposed a 25-metre-wide buffer using native plants to prevent unauthorised access to the urupā. However, the proposal does not sit well with Ngāti Awa, Ōpihi Whanaunga Kaitiaki trust, Ngāi Tahu trust and the youth of Ngāti Awa. They are not in agreement with the proposed development plans as they say it is a threat to their whakapapa (genealogy), rangatiratanga (chieftainship) and undermines their hapū (sub-tribe) mana whenua (territorial rights).

Ngāti Awa plans to peacefully remind MMS GP that it is going nowhere until its whenua is free from developers. “For Ngāti Awa this is a time to plan and keep a strong stance that this is not what we want. We are still here no matter what, and this construction of a retirement building will not be built upon our sacred burial lands,” Beshaw-Ngaropo said.

The court hearing was adjourned but if mediation does not succeed, another court hearing will be held next December.