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'Can't help but smile' - protest leader Pania Newton happy with progress made at Ihumātao

Relieved, happy, excited, and tired.

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Members of SOUL address media following the Māori King’s decision to lower flag on the disputed whenua. Source: 1 NEWS

That’s how the members of SOUL describe feeling following the Māori King’s decision to lower his flag on Ihumātao today, and the looming possibility of a resolution for the disputed whenua arriving by Waitangi Day.

Some members of SOUL fronted media after the flag lowering. The group has been occupying the land since 2016 in protest of it being sold to Fletcher Building which planned to build 480 homes on the site. 

The group's co-leader Pania Newton said having the Māori King at Ihumātao to support their kaupapa (purpose) was really positive.

“It was heart-warming and if you were here you would have felt the wairua and there was so much warmth and aroha and we felt really supported by the King," said Ms Newton.

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Māori King's flag lowered at Ihumātao with resolution to land dispute expected by Waitangi Day

“We’re just really positive moving forward. There’s just this sense of relief that came over our whānau and this sense of pride that we’ve been able to accomplish as much as we have in so little time when we think about the history of injustice against Māori in Aotearoa and so I can’t help but smile."

Fellow SOUL founding member Qiane Matata-Sipu said they couldn’t say what the resolution would be, but they have put their faith in the Kiingitanga.

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Four hundred new homes are planned for the tiny village of Ihumatao in the city’s south. Source: 1 NEWS

“If the King is happy that things are progressing positively then by all means we are happy,” said Matata-Sipu.

Ms Newton said: “For us the first step is to get this whenua out of Fletcher’s hands and into … somewhere, preferably somewhere that’s most comfortable for our whānau and our marae."

With archaeological evidence of horticulture, gardening and established community life dating back to the 1500s Ihumātao is a sacred site to Māori.