Earthworks on an ancestral maunga next to the Whanganui River have been suspended temporarily, after local hapū brought the bulldozing to a halt, saying they weren't consulted on the desecration of their wāhi tapu, or sacred site.
Dozens of members of Ngati Tuera and Ngati Hinearo went to Punakewhitu maunga last week, after a call went out on social media from Hine Stanley (Ngati Tuera) for descendants to come to the site.
Part of the hillside of Punakewhitu, which is known as Gentle Annie and is privately-owned, was bulldozed to open up the entrance and exit to the property to allow logging trucks to get in and out.
It was set to take 2m off the front face, and another 2m off the side of the maunga but works were halted after iwi and hapu members intervened.
The land is considered a wahi tapu to them, and Horizons Regional council said some sites required specific consent under the Heritage New Zealand Act, which calls for consultation with hapu and iwi.
However, descendant Kiritahi Firmin (Ngati Tuera, Ngati Hinearo) said no such engagement took place and they were left shocked and saddened to see their maunga desecrated.
"We wanted to make it clear... that it's not just what can happen to our wahi tapu when there's no consultation, even if the land is owned by a private owner."
Firmin said the maunga was hugely significant to her people.
"You will drive past that as you come up to our awa tipua, to the river road - everyone drives past that and you can't miss it. And to hear the tangi of our kuia aunty Hine Stanley, who called us together, and our aunty Retihia Cribb who called us together, was really emotional."
Tamariki from Te Kura o Te Wainui-a-Rua, Te Kura o Kokohuia and Te Kura Kaupapa o Te Atiahaunui-A-Paparangi also came to the whenua to support hapu.
The landowner, John Oskam, said the work was consented and there had been seven months of consultation with Nga Tangata Tiaki o Whanganui, the post-settlement entity for the iwi and hapu of the region.
He said he was told by Horizons Regional Council, which grants the consents, that Nga Tangata Tiaki o Whanganui were the only group they were required to consult with prior to seeking a resource consent.
"There seems to have been a systems failure somewhere along the line".
"It was assumed that after going through Nga Tangata Tiaki o Whanganui that that would all be put into place, keeping in mind that what we were doing in our opinion, was sensible, not extensive. And if anything, it opened up the view. So we were surprised that it offended people," Oskam said.
"I can understand that people further up the river weren't consulted, is that completely my fault - I don't think so - I mean, we have an iwi body with NTT whose job it is to do that, I imagine."
Nga Tangata Tiaki o Whanganui chair Gerrard Albert said the resource consent applicant and Horizons Regional Council assumed their engagement with his organisation over a soil management plan - to limit it getting into the Whanganui River - was sign off from hapu.*
"This situation is a classic example of the myth unfortunately continuing to be perpetuated by Horizons that one Maori is the same as another."
Albert said the regional council was well aware it was required to consult with hapu.
"This is saddening and NTT has demanded that Horizons, as the public body issuing the consent, own up to its failings and fix this situation."
Oskam said he was told by hapu members that they would be in touch "once they had done their own internal consultations".
However, he said he could only wait for so long as there was forestry equipment they couldn't get out, because the existing track was too narrow.
"I think we will wait until next week, but some people have said it will take much longer... I think it's unfair, I think even from a safety point of view we should be able to get safe access onto our property," he said.
In a statement, Horizons Regional Council said it understood work had been suspended and that the landowner, forest company and hapu were in discussions.
It has yet to respond to further enquiries from RNZ about which iwi/hapu stakeholders it had told the landowner to consult with, whether iwi/hapu were explicitly consulted on the resource consent of the earthworks, and if it followed up to check that consultation occurred.
* This article was published on 22 February, 2021, and updated on 23 February, 2021, to include comments from Nga Tangata Tiaki o Whanganui, which RNZ had sought comment from.