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Ihumātao protest: Kaumātua and rangatahi split over development

Pania Newton, one of the members of SOUL group protesting the development, on 24 July. Photo/RNZ/Dan Cook.

The protests are being lead by mana whenua Pania Newton and her cousins, who have been pushing for the land - owned by Fletcher Building - to be returned to iwi, 160 years after it was first confiscated by the Crown.

But local kaumātua Te Warena Taua from Te Kawerau a Maki, who gave his blessing for the housing development to go forward, said Ms Newton and her cousins were disrespecting their elders by not moving on from the site.

Te Warena Taua had hoped it would be a peaceful end to the two-and-a-half years fight when he walked on to the site on Tuesday, flanked by other kaumātua, representatives from the Kiingitanga movement, Māori wardens, police and representatives of Fletcher Building.

Read RNZ's explainer on Ihumātao why is being occupied by 'protectors'.

He said Ms Newton - his niece - and the other rangatahi were going against their elders by refusing to stand down.

"A lot of our rangatahi do not understand tikanga or even observe proper protocol - things like that - and it's become an uneasy situation out there.

"I've been there for 60 years - I know the place well - we know it like our backs and our kaumātua won't stand for this sort of rubbish but we've got young people who have turned against kaumātua, that's unhealthy."

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Sharon Hawke, whose whānau were at the forefront of the 507 days occupation of Bastion Point / Takaparawhā in the 1970s recalled with sadness that some of their kaumātua called for them to end their protest.

"Our people wanted to save the land - all of us did. My kaumātua still remained with us and there were other kaumātua who then become part of a kaumātua group that [Robert] Muldoon would only talk to because he knew he could convince them."

The occupation of Bastion Point ended when 600 police arrived in a convoy of army trucks to arrest the protesters and demolish their makeshift homes.

Ms Hawke had hoped the events at Bastion Point would never be repeated, but said unfortunately there were already lot of similarities with Ihumātao.

"There's a lot of sadness about that because there isn't a unified voice for one side, so that's going to happen with any land struggle no matter what part of the universe you're in."

Fletcher Building and Te Kawerau a Maki iwi tribal authority maintain they have tried to persuade the group Save our Unique Landscape (SOUL) - co-founded by Ms Newton - that the housing development is the best move for their people.

Under the deal, Fletcher Building has committed to returning 8ha of land at the site to the Kiingitanga, and Te Warena Taua said houses would also be set aside for mana whenua.

"We'll start off with 40 homes coming back to our people at shared-equity ownership. It's good for us because it will allow for people and their families who come from our village to come back to the village and bring their children and mokopuna up."

But Pania Newton maintained she'd never seen that agreement in writing, and pledged to remain on the whenua until all of it was returned.

This article was first published on Radio NZ.