After years of campaigning for both cleaner air and the managed retreat of the Mount Maunganui industrial area, Whareroa Marae has taken its fight to a United Nations panel.
Nearly 100 residents live near the Tauranga Marae, which features a pre-school and elder housing but it is increasingly surrounded by heavy industries including fertiliser plants, log treatment facilities, and tank farms.
Whareroa Marae environment spokesperson Joel Ngatuere and his wife Awhina Ngātuere both connected via Zoom last night with the UN panel, known as the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Emrip), to talk about how the marae and its people are affected by the industries around them.
Why seek international support?
“ I have reached out to our government to follow up on kōrero but I keep being pushed to the side, so I guess we’ve got no other option but to seek out the United Nations,” Ngātuere says.
“Actually, this should be an apolitical kaupapa. This shouldn't be anything that someone grandstands to try to make a debating process. We've got children being harmed.
He says kaumatua are dying and children and families being forced to relocate and break connections to their tūrangawaewae. "And so this shouldn't even be a debate. This is what any politician or anyone who is in local or central government should be getting behind.”
“The only reason whānau are being forced to relocate or being too scared to come back to their marae, to their kōhanga reo, is the fear over safety for their children, their kaumatua and their whānau. This is ongoing, our kids are getting poisoned every day.”.
Plea for help
Ngātuere says they asked the United Nations panel for an immediate cessation of chemical violence upon the marae community, as well as the granting of consents and giving of existing land use rights to corporate industries, superseding the existing land use rights of mana whenua, "who’ve been there ‘mai rā anō (from the beginning).”
Ngātuere says he invited the special rapporteur on toxins and human rights to visit Aotearoa to conduct a thorough investigation, in particular on the governance arrangements and the relationship between the Bay of Plenty Regional Council, the Port of Tauranga and Ballance Agri-nutrients and crossovers and conflicts of interest between all three.
He says he has today reached out to Māori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi because of the special rapporteur coming to Aotearoa. "They need political security. So I reached out to the Māori Party, to Rāwiri’s office to see if we can get that from him.”