Disunited City Council Refuses to Return Māori Land

By Regan Paranihi

Tauranga City Council stands on shaky ground after backtracking on a previous promise to return land to Ōtamataha Trust.

Ōtamataha Trust representative, Peri Kohu, says "The Ōtamataha trust is disappointed that the council didn't take the opportunity to return some of this land back to Tangata Whenua".

Tauranga local Karena Bird believes that the move is motivated by racism.

"No doubt Tauranga is a racist town. So to me, it's not even a question of whether there is racism here in Tauranga. If you are Māori in this area you feel it on a day to day basis".

Tauranga Council Deputy Mayor, Kelvin Colt deflects such accusations, instead attributing the revoke to misinformation.

"I can understand why because local tangata whenua felt that they have been undermined in their objective but I wouldn't go as far as to say it was racist,

"In that particular report that was presented to elected members one critical piece of information was not highlighted to us and that resulted in some concern".

Kohu dismisses such notions, retorting, "The information was available ... I rang up the Elms [Foundation] and asked them whats the go with this and they gave me that what I just said. So it's pedantic".

Some city councillors were for, and some were against, some of their comments are below.

"I believe that we have failed them if that resolution goes through, we've failed the local iwi and we've failed the local hapū".

"So many people look at the fears of what's going to happen if we gift this land to Ōtamataha Trust but in my view, there is very little to fear but much to gain".

"Moving forward with the mana whenua of that historic land is the best thing for this city".

Council Member John Robson says there's a bigger question that needs to be addressed here.

"Why we are where we are and how we go forward and produce a better result particularly for Māori, but at another level, the council took some money from ratepayers and said it was going to do something and it should just get on and do it".

Kohu concluded, "We're not anywhere at the moment but it keeps the conversation going, he adds, "We want 11 Mission St [the land block in question] back in our name".

The Ōtamataha Trust believe the ball is now in their court and will meet tomorrow to discuss a way forward.