Māori landowners in Far North worry over council 'land grab'

By Tumamao Harawira

Iwi say it is yet another plan to control Māori-owned land in the Far North.

Last year the Far North District Council and the other Northland councils worked on a project to map and identify significant natural areas (SNA) within each district.

Mapping identifies approximately 42% of the Far North district contains these potentially sensitive environments. This is an increase from 30% when it was last mapped in the 1990s.

The new mapping project was undertaken by consultant ecologists, Wildland Consultants, using existing literature, an inspection of new aerial photography, and site visits. A total of 685 areas deemed significant have been identified. This covers 282,696 hectares, which is approximately 42% of the area of the Far North District.

Of that 42%, approximately half of that area is public land (already zoned as conservation land) and half is in private ownership. Māori land accounts for 50% of the land in private ownership.

For Nicky Wakefield, it's clear what the intentions of the Far North District Council are: "The land grab in the significant natural areas is saying that your land can only be used for one thing."

Attacks Māori landowners

"You go to the Far North district website and have a look at the maps. Oh boy, it's mind-blowing. There are huge pieces of land taken up as significant natural areas."

The proposed district plan will impose land use and subdivision rules that may require landowners to protect the SNA if they plan to develop the land or clear vegetation. Te Kahu o Taonui, hapū, land trusts, and landowners have serious concerns and reservations about that.

"To me, this attacks Māori that live in the regions," Huhana Lyndon says.  "Some haven't even begun to develop their own land. Māori have to go to the council to get a licence for them to work their land. So this is such an important subject for Māori in the North."

According to James Shaw, minister in charge of a national rollout of a plan to protect biodiversity, he is totally understanding of the concerns of iwi in the North that this is just another way to take Māori land.

"If you look at the history of the colonial period of New Zealand, I can absolutely understand why Māori would look at this through that lens and to have that concern."

In response to whether or not this is a land grab, Far North District councillor, Moko Tepania says it would be difficult to describe this as a land grab but it's right that we as Māori remain vigilant. I wouldn't call it a land grab but we should be aware nonetheless.

He told Te Ao Mārama that the power of the policy actually sits with central government, if these go ahead on your land, you won't be able to develop it without resource consent from the council and he says that is where his concern is lies. 

Biodiversity in crisis

But Shaw is adamant that there needs to be a plan to protect New Zealand's unique biodiversity.

"New Zealand's biodiversity is in crisis. There is something in the order of 4000 species on the brink of extinction. But the idea here isn't to stop development at all, it is to work with landowners and to say well, hang on, how can we do this in a better way."

Nicky Wakefield believes that any policy impacting whenua māori must be determined and led by Māori.

"We weren't the ones that cleared the whenua, that drained the swamps, that destroyed the habitat across the whenua. That was done through the Crown's breaching of Te Tiriti and now we are being persecuted or prevented from developing our land to make up for those mistakes when Māori wasn't at the helm."

Tepania says at the core of this is the protection of indigenous resources including forests, birds, animals and insects but the processes that are used to achieve that are what we need to be aware of. 

Iwi and landowners in the Far North have until June 11 to give their submissions.