Historic Kārewarewa urupā desecrated by Crown breaches, redevelopment – Waitangi Tribunal

Systemic breaches by the Crown led to desecration and redevelopment of a historically significant burial site in Waikanae, north of Wellington, the Waitangi Tribunal has found.

Kapiti Island, as seen from Waikanae Beach - north of Wellington

Kāpiti Island as seen from Waikanae beach on the Kāpiti Coast north of Wellington. Photo: Dan Cederholm / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The report released today found there were a series of failings by the Crown which led to the iwi’s loss of ownership and control of the Kārewarewa urupā, the removal of its ‘Māori Cemetery’ designation, and the desecration of the urupā with the construction of a housing development on more than half of the urupā block.

Claims about the Kārewarewa Urupā were lodged by Te Ātiawa/Ngāti Awa ki Kapiti and heard between 2018 and 2019 as part of the Porirua ki Manawatū inquiry.

The Tribunal agreed to prepare and early report on the urupā because it requires urengent protection from residential development.

Ātiawa ki Whakarongotai Charitable Trust chair André Baker said the report finally addressed serious grievances the iwi had been fighting to resolve over successive generations.

He said the report supported the claimants’ view that the Crown had not provided appropriate levels of protection to Māori cemeteries.

“The report upholds the view of claimants that there have not been adequate checks and balances in the system to prevent the desecration of Māori cemeteries and wāhi tapu. These findings have implications not just for our iwi, but for all iwi and kaitiaki of urupā and wāhi tapu.

“It is a huge step towards the process of healing for us to have the Tribunal provide findings that finally recognise how the statutory regime in relation to Māori land and heritage deprives us of our tino rangatiratanga over our urupā and wāhi tapu,” Baker said.

Baker acknowledged the late Paora Ropata, who was the original claimant on behalf of the wider iwi.

Ropata had presented evidence regarding the desecration of the site, including the illegal exhumation of 11 individuals’ kōiwi tangata, or skeletal remains, in 2000.

He spoke to the deep impact this had on those whose ancestors who were buried at the urupā, and on residents he provided support to when they found themselves inadvertently residing on a Māori cemetery.

Baker said it was saddening that Ropata had passed away and said this spoke to the significant life-long challenges in having these issues properly addressed and resolved by the Crown.

However, the iwi were encouraged by the Waitangi Tribunal providing this specific report on Kārewarewa early and in advance of the wider iwi report for Te Ātiawa, out of recognition that the urupā requires urgent protection.

The Waitangi Tribunal recommended – in order to prevent the recurrence of prejudice in the event of future applications relating to Kārewarewa urupā or to other wāhi tapu – that Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga should undertake a review led by the Māori Heritage Council of the assessment process for section 56 applications concerning sites of interest to Māori.

It also recommended the Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage introduce legilsation as soon as possible to amend the timeframe in section 56 of the Act.

Baker welcomed the recommendations.

“We anticipate that the findings in this report will assist in once and for all putting an end to any further development of the urupā, and we are open to working with the Crown to determine what steps they might take to remedy the grievances that have been generated for our people.”

The land where the urupā is located was owned by a Māori trust prior to 1969, and claimants believe the trust sold the land not knowing that the urupa was included in the sale. When the Waikanae Land Company became the new owner they applied to the county council to have the cemetery designation removed so that the land could be developed.

Despite opposition from kaumātua at the time, the council agreed to remove the cemetery designation, enabling the company to develop streets and residential housing there.

The company tried to develop on the land again for housing in the 2000s, but unearthed koiwi or skeletal remains during the process.

Despite outcry from local Māori, the company went ahead with further work on the land, undertaking a geomagnetic survey and test pit from 2014 to 2018.

Although no further development work ensued after the archaeological investigation carried out in 2016-17, the claimants are deeply concerned at the prospect of further disturbance to the burial ground.

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