Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon says he is proud to be among those fighting for their rights at Ihumātao, following his visit to the occupation site today.
Foon says the purpose of the visit is to get a feel for the mauri of the whenua and to understand the essence of the issues.
“According to Pania [Newton], it's about culture and heritage, values of this whenua. She says it's not a Treaty issue, so we're here to acknowledge that.”
The newly appointed Race Relations Commissioner says he sympathises with the plight of Māori who are fighting for their lands.
“Once upon a time Māori owned and managed 100% of New Zealand, now they've only got 4% so I can feel their fight in terms of wanting to preserve as much land for their future generations.
“Obviously there has been structural and institutional racism in terms of taking land, suppressing tohungatanga, suppressing language, bombing and taking away marae and structures.”
Although Foon acknowledges that the land is legally held in private ownership by Fletcher Building Ltd, he questions how that came to be.
“In the past, councils have actually thought it fit to actually change [Ihumātao] into a reserve and I'll be interested actually in the Environment Court's findings as to why it's not a reserve and it can actually be used for housing.”
He also points out that the Human Right Commission is limited in capacity, but will explore what they can do. Foon acknowledges the role that Kīngitanga have in facilitating a way forward.
“It's for mana whenua to determine, the Crown aren't taking part at the moment, I know that the Prime Minister is leaving this process for mana whenua."
When asked about the PM visiting Ihumātao, Foon says he respects her decisions, but also adds that "she should".