In a bid to protect a 300-year-old Pōhutukawa tree from further damage, local hapū in Ahipara in the Far North have moved onto whenua at Moringai Māori Reserve.
Two weeks ago, the Pōhutukawa tree, which is located on Wharo Way in Ahipara was taken to with a chainsaw, the people responsible for the cutting of the tree claim they were simply pruning the tree.
The tree is considered sacred by local hapū, and now they are calling for the return of the land where the tree stands.
On Saturday, a group of around 30 local hapū members moved onto the land, spokesperson Rueben Taipari says those involved in the noho whenua are 100 percent committed to protecting the tree from further damage.
"The wairua of the group is massive, our kuia are here leading the charge to protect the tree, and are supportive of our plan to occupy the whenua."
The whenua in Ahipara where a centuries old Pōhutukawa was partially felled. Photo / Reuben Taipari
To mark the occasion, local hapū planted 200 Pōhutukawa saplings on the whenua.
The land where the tree stands has seen large-scale development in recent years and is the original site of a marae of Te Rarawa chief Toakai. Following the land being gifted to the Catholic Church, which was then onsold, the land was used by the church as well as the Māori Land Court. Only one parcel of land on Wharo Way remains in Māori hands.
Taipari says hapū are adamant that the land should be returned to them.
"We will stay and guard the tree from further damage, but we want to begin conversations around the return of the whenua to hapū, whakahokia mai te whenua."
Hapū plant seedlings on the whenua in Ahipara where the centuries-old Pōhutukawa was partially felled. Photo / Reuben Taipari
The tree was chainsawed by GP Dr Cecil Williams who says he purchased an empty site in 2008 to build his retirement home.
“We didn’t want to cut down the tree but they [the builders] said some of the tree had to go,” he said.
Dr Williams told Stuff he asked council if he was allowed to cut part of the tree down. He said he was upset he was not told the tree was significant to the hapū.
“If we had known it was significant, we could’ve talked to them beforehand ... We’re not for destroying people’s heritage.”
Far North District councillor Felicity Foy is saddened by the attack on the tree.
"The community (both Māori and non-Māori) is sad about the severe damage to the rākau, and also there is also anger that this has happened. There is a lot of history and cultural significance with the rākau and the site that it occupies. This is a very sad occurrence for the Ahipara community."