Shelly Bay split an iwi, caught the eye of a famous filmmaker and launched a municipal campaign, but finally, after 16 months, the land occupation ended.
The first real
real estate on Wellington’s Miramar Peninsula is set for a $500 million development, including 350 new homes, a boutique hotel and a green village.
The plan has been mired in legal challenges and disputes since its inception, making it one of the capital’s most contentious issues.
Many in Wellington felt entitled to have a say in what happened at Shelly Bay, but members of Taranaki Whānui are the ones who are actually at the heart of this matter.
How did the land occupation begin?
The land has been occupied since November 2020 by a group called Mau Whenua. Its membership consists of some members of Taranaki Whānui and those who oppose the development.
The group claims the Port Nicholson Block Settlement Trust (PNBST) went against the wishes of its own people when it sold its land in Shelly Bay for development and the deal was done in secret.
PNBST was created to receive and manage the treaty settlement case for Taranaki Whānui.
The trust used about half of its $25 million settlement money to buy land in Shelly Bay. The iwi was asset-rich, but cash-poor.
Three parcels of land owned by the trust were later sold for $2 million in 2017, a fraction of the original cost. A fourth package was later sold for $10 million.
After several legal battles, the event that triggered the occupation was a vote by Wellington City Council on whether to sell and lease land it owned in Shelly Bay to make way for development.
The decision to sell was adopted by nine votes to six.
Mau Whenua warned the councilors that their Ihumātao time had come and less than two weeks later the land occupation at Shelly Bay began.
Last December, Kara Puketapu-Dentice was elected president of the PNBST.
Trustee positions are held for a three-year term.
Puketapu-Dentice has held various leadership positions in the civil service and private sector, which have focused on improving outcomes for Maori.
Puketapu-Dentice and Mau Whenua member Shamia Makarini agreed that the election brought about a change in personalities that opened a new chapter between the parties.
The couple had a pre-existing relationship, Puketapu-Dentice said.
“So I was able to connect with her and engage with her, and then through her create a sense of mutual trust between us.”
Puketapu-Dentice also sensed Mau Whenua’s desire to reach a point of resolve.
“By being able to recognize that while we’re sitting here arguing a bit with each other, there are bigger issues for us that need our full attention and need our unity.”
Makarini said that while Mau Whenua has always been open to discussion, the PNBST has notably changed its approach when there has been a change in leadership.
“There was no adversarial or aggressive approach, it was done with respect for tikanga. It was done with goodwill and a solution-oriented approach, and with the aim of benefiting our people.”
Makarini said it was easy to see that both sides wanted the same thing.
The members of Mau Whenua were cautious, but hopeful. Their korero remained out of the public eye.
What have the parties agreed to?
Last month, Mau Whenua hosted an open house at Shelly Bay to take stock of the discussion between the two sides.
It has been revealed that the trust has pledged to retain significant land in its tribal area as a key pillar of its revised strategic plan.
This was seen as a return to the vision and kaupapa of the iwi elders, or elders, who were reclaiming their lands for generations to come.
While Shelly Bay was Mau Whenua’s physical hub, the group’s kaupapa was about all iwi land, Makarini said.
So much of what Mau Whenua fought for has been achieved.
Puketapu-Dentice said clinging to their whenua has always been implicit for Māori, but not necessarily explicit.
Incorporating this kaupapa into the trust’s strategic plan provided a level of certainty, he said.
“Something our people can hold us accountable for as trustees.”
Puketapu-Dentice said the hope is that Mau Whenua will eventually be no more, but instead those involved will be active members of the tribe providing support or defiance on issues.
The saga has gone on too long, he said.
“It distracted us, it’s the thing that polarized us, and it’s the thing we’re known for. Some days I wondered if we shouldn’t just change our name to Ngāti Shelly Bay because that’s what everyone thinks, right?”
“Now we can breathe and we are no longer Ngāti Shelly Bay, we are Taranaki Whānui.”
So is the fight over?
Mau Whenua has been clear that the group have not given up their fight for land and will not withdraw their claim currently in the Maori Land Court.
Makarini said that although the Mau Whenua have physically left the site, they do not consider this a departure from the land.
A died stone laid at Shelly Bay as part of a process of healing and unification for the iwi also meant that the kaupapa of Mau Whenua remained there, she said.
Mau Whenua’s position remains unchanged that the sale of land to The Wellington Company for development was invalid.
The protest action will continue against the development, but may look different from the occupation, which served its purpose, Makarini said.
“We need to operate efficiently and strategically on this site.”
She said that Mau Whenua is not anti-development, it just needs to be the right development that meets the needs of iwi and the community.
In the meantime, the trust remains a partner in the development project and has resolved to support it.
“We not only see it as a necessary thing for us to continue being part of, but actually an opportunity for us to grow,” Puketapu-Dentice said.
He wanted to clarify that the sale of land at Shelly Bay was a land-for-land arrangement.
The sale enabled the trust to purchase further portions of land in central Wellington, property which is now leased to the Crown, he said.
But Puketapu-Dentice also said he would always defend a person’s right to bring a legal challenge and that this should be anticipated when in governance positions.
What does this mean for development?
Puketapu-Dentice said he was quite confident Mau Whenua members would not stand in front of the diggers when development work begins.
He said it was important for communication to remain open and for lawyers not to dictate the nature of their relationship, if they were to get involved.
“It’s like any relationship – there are things we agree on and there are things we disagree on. I think there’s strength in the relationship so that we can navigate whatever this process may unravel.”
Puketapu-Dentice acknowledged that other groups might physically attempt to stop development or occupy the land.
This will be handled quickly as needed, he said.
When asked if the members of Mau Whenua would physically try to stop development on the spot, Makarini replied that they had not made any plans yet.
“Whatever way we think is most effective in opposing development, I’m sure it will be taken.
The end of Mau Whenua’s occupation meant work could begin, Puketapu-Dentice said.
He said work was happening behind the scenes to ensure the development resonated with who they were as Taranaki Whānui, including input from multiple uri designers and artists.
Puketapu-Dentice said that as this work progressed, he wanted to keep the dialogue open with Mau Whenua to see what influence they wanted to have.
He said there should be a component of development that recognizes the occupation.
“These things give texture. We have to recognize them so that there is a historical memory in the site that recognizes all of these things that happened.
“Let’s not just get rid of it. It’s real and it happened.”
- Representatives from Tbilisi and Tskhinvali discuss irrigation in Ergneti – Civil.ge
- Humsa residents threatened with arrest if they do not leave their land and demolish their homes
- Hallam University accused of trying to end protests with disciplinary measures against students
- Yotam Ottolenghi: The occupation of the West Bank is the mother of all evils