close button


Inside the fraught battle for mana whenua recognition in Auckland.


Jan 9, 2023 Politics

Auckland is New Zealand’s only mercantile city. Ports of Auckland is responsible for the inward and outward flow of most of the country’s goods. Shortland St law firms structure, and the major banks on Albert and Queen Sts finance, the most important mergers and acquisitions. South Auckland’s industrial corridors, stretching east-west from the airport to East Tamaki and north-south from Penrose and Mt Wellington to Papatoetoe and Manurewa, manufacture and distribute the country’s most important goods. Wellington, in comparison, is a government and consulting town, dealing in policy and its provision. Christchurch is an agricultural service centre, offering the goods and services that sustain a pastoral province. But geography and immigration make Auckland different.

In the mid-19th century, settlers were recording their disappointment on arrival in New Zealand Company towns like Wellington and New Plymouth. The marketing brochures in London had promised a reliable climate and fat parcels of land. But early Wellington and New Plymouth could only offer rain, wind, muddied streets and property transactions that were prone to falling through. Auckland, on the other hand, was the “great emporium of New Zealand”, to quote William Swainson, the last attorney-general of the colony of New Zealand. Swainson would make his way from the government quarter in Britomart — Auckland was the country’s capital at the time — to the trading post at Mechanics Bay to purchase the European foods he and his fellow settlers had left behind: fresh pork, chicken, turkey, duck, geese, potato, wheat, maize, melons, grapes, pumpkins and onions. Swainson’s colleagues were also cutting procurement deals at the trading post, acquiring timber products to continue the colony’s building projects up hilly Queen St.

Ships were coming and going from Sydney to Auckland, and sometimes even further away. But very little of this was European commerce: it was chiefly Māori trade. Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei maintained horticultural holdings in neighbouring Ōkahu Bay, making the short waka trip to supply the city past what today is Tāmaki Dr. Tribes from the Waikato interior would make their way north on foot, bringing horticultural and livestock products over the Bombay Hills, while tribes from the Coromandel and Bay of Plenty coast would deploy their schooners to the city. The Coromandel was a particularly rich source of kauri. Swainson wrote that this trade and the tribes who undertook it were “the very lifeblood of the town”. This brief, peaceful period in 19th-century Auckland was happening under the supervision of the iwi maintaining ahi kaa — occupation — in central Auckland at the time: Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei.

After withdrawing from the city during the Musket Wars in the early part of the century, the tribe had returned in the 1830s under the mana of Pōtatau Te Wherowhero, the first Māori king. But it was a fragile return — the warrior chiefs of the north were still well armed. It was uncertain whether the new political balance in Māori society would hold. With that in mind, and with a keen eye for trade and economic opportunities, the leading rangatira Āpihai Te Kawau sent a Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei delegation to Waitangi to invite Lieutenant-Governor Hobson to relocate his capital to the shores of the Waitematā. Hobson gladly accepted and in September and October 1840, Te Kawau’s tribe transferred 3,500 acres to the Crown roughly between modern-day Hobson Bay at Parnell to Coxs Bay in Westmere and inland to Mt Eden. This far-sighted invitation and transfer — known in Māori as a tuku whenua, a land gifting that settles rights and obligations on both parties — would unleash Auckland’s mercantile potential, opening horticultural, agricultural and timber trade opportunities for Māori while establishing a textile industry for settlers (there was high demand from Māori buyers for European-style clothing and bedding).

The Mechanics Bay that Swainson knew is, in 2022, buried beneath a concrete overpass and the Eastern railway line’s browning tracks. But it remains a terminus of sorts. If a driver approaches the old bay from the CBD, the Fergusson Container Terminal takes shape to the left. If the driver continues along Quay St, it becomes Tāmaki Dr, a key thoroughfare into the eastern suburbs. To the right, Parnell unfolds along a gentle ridgeline, mansions and museums in view. In the early 19th century, the entire area was held under the mana of Te Kawau and his Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei people. Even as the tribe lost this land to dodgy purchasing agreements and compulsory acquisitions, the descendants of Te Kawau maintained their presence in the area, holding out in small kāinga in Ōkahu Bay and other important pockets, and eventually re-establishing a base in Ōrākei itself. On this history it is clear that Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei maintained ahikāroa or continuous occupation in the area from the CDB through Parnell and into Ōrākei, and correspondingly mana whenua — the rights and responsibilities derived from that occupation and the whakapapa that entitles them to it — over that land.

But historic and contemporary borders in Auckland can be difficult to draw with certainty. Tāmaki Makaurau was the richest prize in pre-European New Zealand. The isthmus contains fertile volcanic soils, supporting raised gardens in kāinga like Ihumātao, and is the narrowest point in the North Island — meaning it occupies the centre of interconnecting trade routes between the densely populated Northland, Waikato, Coromandel and Bay of Plenty regions. Waka could be carried across the narrowest parts of the isthmus, eliminating the need for longer and more uncertain navigation around Cape Rēinga. This meant battles for control over this prize were fought regularly, which could change the political balance of the region from generation to generation. At different times, Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei were also exercising ahikāroa at pā and kāinga in Onehunga, the upper Waitematā, Māngere and Ihumātao. In the thousand-year history of Tāmaki Makaurau, these sites, pā and kāinga often changed hands, or existed closely alongside the pā and kāinga of other iwi and hapū. Ngāti Awa, as one example, an iwi from the Bay of Plenty, once held a foothold in South Auckland. The inhabitants of Ihumātao, as another example, have connections to Waikato-Tainui among other iwi. It was into this history of change that, in 2015, the Crown clumsily stepped.


The historical account of how the Crown denied Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei their rangatiratanga in central Auckland is increasingly well known. One who understands it intimately is Rōpata Pāora (Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei), a te reo Māori expert and the founder of the popular Tākina method of learning te reo, an approach that uses actions, gestures and repetition to build skills. Pāora explains that the foundational conflict stems from the mistranslation between the Treaty of Waitangi and Te Tiriti o Waitangi. “My understanding of what our ancestors ceded [in Te Tiriti o Waitangi] was governorship,” says Pāora. “Not actual sovereignty in terms of authority — ceding the authority [the rangatira] had over other people on their land, their treasures, their oceans and their forests… That’s where the misunderstanding has always been.” In Article II of te Tiriti, the Māori-language version that the vast majority of rangatira signed, the affirming chiefs restate their ‘rangatiratanga’ — in English, their whole and exclusive political authority — while carving out ‘kāwanatanga’ — governorship — for the Crown. Yet in the English version, the signing rangatira cede their ‘sovereignty’, a word which is much closer in meaning to rangatiratanga. This misunderstanding was catastrophic, says Pāora. The Crown took as its authority the version barely any rangatira signed and established their subsequent government upon it.

In the 1990s, the Crown began a Treaty ‘settlement’ programme in an effort to apologise and make redress for the very worst of the breaches that flowed from the original misunderstanding. On 5 November 2011 the Crown and the representatives of Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei signed a deed of settlement establishing a redress package — including the return of Crown land, a cash sum and other components — and a Crown apology. In the legislation enacting the deed of settlement, the Crown acknowledges its historic wrongs. For many iwi, a Crown acknowledgement is as important as any redress. For Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei — the iwi which saw, as only one example, their homes and marae at Ōkahu Bay burned to the ground in the 1950s to accommodate the sensibilities of Queen Elizabeth II on her first tour of New Zealand — the apology certainly serves an important function. But one of the lesser-known aspects of a settlement negotiation is the mutual acknowledgement between the Crown and the negotiating iwi of an ‘area of interest’. In 2006 Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei claimed, and the Crown agreed to, an area of interest for the purposes of first right of refusal of an area of 109km2. The north-eastern border is drawn roughly at Mission Bay, extending south towards Penrose, west towards Blockhouse Bay, north towards Rosebank and then following the Waitematā coast back to Mission Bay. If the Crown intends to sell public property within this area it must first offer the land to Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei for purchase before putting it on the open market. The Crown acknowledges that other iwi claim an interest within that 109km2. Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei acknowledges that other interests can exist, too. But the iwi also claims an ‘exclusive’ interest area, this time roughly within the triangle of land that Te Kawau gifted to the Crown in the tuku whenua in September and October 1840. Within these borders, Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei has exclusive rights.


Rōpata Pāora is also an activist. He was an integral member of the hīkoi against the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004 when thousands of protesters crossed Auckland Harbour Bridge on their way to Wellington. Pāora often code-switches, speaking in Māori when discussing matters Māori, and English when discussing matters of te ao Pākehā. I travel around our lands to ensure I connect with all of the sites of significance, Pāora says in te reo. In a well-known episode of Waka Huia Pāora took a camera crew on his regular haerenga. I spend time there, I rest and reflect there, I even sleep at these places to make sure our iwi of Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei has a physical presence at all these sites across Auckland. In 2003, Pāora came up with the idea to fly the tino rangatiratanga flag over the Harbour Bridge, explaining that anywhere a New Zealand flag flies, a tino rangatiratanga flag should fly beside it, to signal the equal mana between the rangatira of any given place and the Crown. After heated debates, Cabinet, at the request of Minister of Māori Affairs Pita Sharples, agreed to fly the flag alongside the New Zealand flag on Waitangi Day 2010. Today, Pāora still flies the flag from a pole at the foot of each end of the bridge. At the north end, the flagpole rests on the old Onewā pā site, a significant village for Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei. At the south end it flies from Te Oka, another significant village. This is a statement for te ao Māori itself, but also a significant statement for Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei — Pāora’s presence on the whenua and his political acts establish that it is his iwi maintaining ahikāroa in the heart of Auckland.

Yet on 17 August 2015, the then Minister for Treaty Negotiations, Christopher Finlayson, wrote to Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei notifying them that the Crown had made a preliminary decision to confirm the redress offer of two properties, one at 71 Grafton Rd and another at 136 Dominion Rd, to Ngāti Pāoa as part of Treaty settlement negotiations with the Marutūāhu Collective (a group of five Hauraki iwi, of which Ngāti Pāoa is a part). Number 71 Grafton Rd rises from the Parnell flats toward the Auckland City Hospital campus. The strip that number 71 forms a part of includes the most important health charities and funders in New Zealand — CanTeen, the Child Cancer Foundation and the Health Research Council. Number 136 Dominion Rd is near Bellevue Reserve, at a point where a suburban stretch of road gives way to industrial retailers. On the surface, Finlayson’s letter was innocuous. It was a courteous update that negotiations with Ngāti Pāoa and the Marutūāhu Collective were progressing, but in a manner that was relevant to the interest of Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei. The transfers would occur within Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei’s claimed area of interest, but the Crown did not consider that area ‘exclusive’. The assertion landed with a dull thump, shocking Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei and its supporters. In 1840, when the iwi signed Te Tiriti o Waitangi, it was clear that Te Kawau held the mana over the area now known as Grafton. How could the Crown offer redress from this area to an iwi that is not Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei?


Waha kōhatu is a learning technique. Students, at the direction of a tohunga, place a stone in their mouth and recite the oral histories they are acquiring. The stone acts as a memory aid. The logic is that oral history — and the corollary, whakapapa — is multisensory. History unfolds in the telling — the sounds, sights, smells and interpretations the tellings evoke. But for decades the reliability of oral history was questioned. Many Pākehā critics would reason that reciting the omnibus of iwi history in one’s head, and preserving the integrity of its telling over centuries, was humanly impossible. But the critics often failed to reckon with two truths: that written texts are equally susceptible to bias — authors can record fraudulent, mistaken, sarcastic or otherwise unreliable accounts in text — and that societally encoded memories can exist over thousands of generations. In the Australian context, researchers Patrick Nunn and Nicholas Reid have found that oral histories of sea-level rises survive from 5300 BCE, and further empirical investigations confirm that oral history as accurate. Closer to home, researchers increasingly rely on oral history to confirm natural events, too. In Taranaki, oral history records the destruction of Karakatonga pā at the same time of Mt Taranaki’s last major eruption in 1655.

But oral histories recording political changes can be more fraught. It takes skill and care to interpret them. In recent times, Elsdon Best, the amateur ethnographer who recorded the whakapapa of Tūhoe, has been criticised for simply recording iwi descent lines as linear, proceeding from point A to point Z in an uninterrupted fashion. But whakapapa is capable of many different tellings. When in Te Āti Awa’s territory in northern Taranaki, the iwi Ngāti Awa from the opposite coast might emphasise their shared connection to Awanuiarangi II, the ancestor from whom both iwi trace their descent and their name. The purpose of that emphasis is to generate connections and uplift the mana of both iwi. The connection does not necessarily rely on temporal proximity — Awanuiarangi II lived many centuries ago and was, in some histories, semi-divine — and any subsequent connections or divergences need not unfold in a linear manner. The purpose of reciting the whakapapa is social and political. In one account, Awanuiarangi II might be the most important ancestor; in another it might be his father. In other accounts still it could be completely different ancestors. Oral history in service of politics is often oral history in service of upholding or uplifting mana. Thus, iwi with competing political claims might not agree with the oral histories that opposing iwi might proffer. When the Ngāti Awa historian Pouroto Ngaropo argued that Mt Albert, or Ōwairaka, took its name from the saviour of the Mātaatua waka, Wairaka, the various iwi of Auckland intervened to offer their own histories. Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei argue that “Ōwairaka is named after our tupuna Wairaka who lived on its summit in the ancient times of the Patupaiarehe”. Prominent activist Pita Tūrei argues the name is derived from a shortened version of ‘Te Wai o Rakataura’, an ancestor of Te Kawerau ā Maki, and the mountain is sometimes called Te Ahi -kā-a-Rakataura.

One complication arising from these tellings is that Ngaropo made his arguments without the general consent of the Ngāti Awa people. Another is that protesters from Honour the Maunga, a group seeking to protect exotic trees on Ōwairaka, pounced on Ngaropo’s claim. They were seeking to weaponise it against the Tūpuna Maunga Authority, the statutory entity that governs Auckland’s 14 ancestral mountains, which wanted to remove trees from the slopes of Ōwairaka. How could the Maunga Authority make decisions, the protesters asked, when Ngāti Awa held the mana to do so? In pre-European times there were several methods for resolving competing claims, ranging from general consent among different iwi and hapū, negotiation between the claimants, and, failing that, war. Today, recognition and rights generally depend on the Crown.

In Auckland, the Crown recognises Ngāti Pāoa in East Auckland and the gulf area, Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki in an area stretching from roughly Maraetai in the east to Papakura in the south, Ngāti Te Ata, Ngāti Tamaoho and Te Ākitai Waiohua along the shores of the Manukau Harbour and reaching slightly inland, and Te Kawerau ā Maki in West Auckland and parts of the North Shore. The technical term for the Crown’s recognition is ‘interests’, and where the Crown acknowledges an interest, it generally provides the means to implement rights inherent in that interest, whether in Treaty settlement deeds, Department of Conservation and resource management policies, or other mechanisms. In Auckland, iwi interests often overlap. Te Kawerau ā Maki and Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei claim an interest in Onewā at the northern end of the Harbour Bridge, and the Crown recognises both interests accordingly. When the Minister for Treaty Negotiations wrote to the Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei Trust in August 2015 to inform them that the Crown planned to offer the Marutūāhu Collective redress via properties on Grafton and Dominion Rds, it was in pursuit of its efforts to balance ‘overlapping’ interests. Further letters would arrive at the trust, with Finlayson writing in November 2016 to confirm that Te Ākitai Waiohua would also receive redress within Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei’s area of interest. Just who, then, is mana whenua of Auckland?


“Our mana is established on four principles generally accepted across te ao Māori as key foundations. [The first is] take raupatu — the taking of land through traditional warfare. The Te Taoū hapū of Ngāti Whātua thoroughly defeated the great Waiohua chief Kiwi Tāmaki in warfare in the 1740s,” says Ngarimu Blair. The deputy chair of Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei Trust is one of the iwi’s most articulate spokespeople, appearing across the media to argue his iwi’s standing as the mana whenua of the area covering Te Kawau’s gift in 1840 and further. “[The second foundation is] ahi kā. The Ngāti Whātua ancestor Tuperiri took possession of Maungakiekie and built his pā called Hikurangi near the summit. His sons then established a network of fishing villages from Āwhitu, to Māngere, to Te Whau (New Lynn), to Pītoitoi (Riverhead), to Te Onewā (Harbour Bridge), to Horotiu (Queen Street) to Okahu Bay. Our people continue to visit and live at all these places today.” For most observers, this would suggest Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei were mana whenua. Further south in Waikato-Tainui or further north in Ngāti Wai these fundamentals, from raupatu to continuous occupation, would confirm that they are the mana whenua. But Auckland is different. Social and political control changed often over its history. And when Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei took their case to the High Court seeking a declaration of their mana whenua status, Justice Palmer, who is himself an expert in the jurisprudence of the Treaty of Waitangi and New Zealand history, acknowledged the complex web of connections that is historic and contemporary Auckland.

Almost as soon as Finlayson’s letter reached the desks at Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei Trust, the iwi set about preparing the necessary filings. They went to the High Court and lost. Undeterred, they went to the Court of Appeal and lost there, too. Finally, they reached the Supreme Court, losing again. The courts held that the doctrine of comity — similar to the American concept of separation of powers — meant that, as judges, they were neither qualified nor empowered to interfere in parliamentary proceedings. If Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei were to succeed, the courts would be altering the redress proposal for the Marutūāhu Collective. That would mean interfering in both the Deed of Settlement that outlines the redress proposal and the legislation that implements it. At the heart of New Zealand’s parliamentary democracy is the rule that judges may not (or cannot) override the will of Parliament. This was a partial victory for Finlayson and the Crown, but it was not necessarily a loss for Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei. The Supreme Court held that they could remit one matter back to the High Court: the status of Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei as mana whenua. In other words, the iwi could seek a declaration confirming their status in Auckland.

The iwi duly sought this declaration, hiring a prominent silk to argue their case. But Justice Matthew Palmer’s decision, delivered in April 2022, was a hedge. He was willing to declare that “Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei currently have ahi kā and mana whenua in relation to the area identified in Map 1” — the heart of the isthmus — “with all the obligations at tikanga that go with that, according to the tikanga and historical tribal narrative and tradition of Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei”. But Justice Palmer was also willing to declare that “the tikanga and historical tribal narratives and traditions of Marutūāhu Rōpū … Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki, and Te Ākitai Waiohua do not currently recognise that Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei have ahi kā and mana whenua, as those concepts are conceived of by Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei, in relation to the area identified in Map 1”. For the court, this was having its cake and eating it too. Marutūāhu Rōpū, through their counsel and lead settlement negotiator Paul Majurey, successfully argued that they could claim mana whenua according to their tikanga. Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei argued that, according to their tikanga, their mana whenua status in central Auckland was exclusive. Mana whenua status was not divisible. But the High Court refused to judge which interpretation of mana whenua status — whether it was exclusive (Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei) or capable of being shared (Marutūāhu Rōpū) — was correct.

Blair, who is a well-connected leader in Auckland business and government, poses a provocative question to settle the issue. “Who is mana whenua of central Auckland? When asked which iwi has the right to speak on take [issues] in these lands, who would you instinctively talk to?” Increasingly, the answer is Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei. Civic ceremonies, public works and developments public and private increasingly take place under the mana of Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei rather than the mana of the Marutūāhu Rōpū or other iwi with interests in Auckland. In a powerful op-ed for Stuff, Blair questions the implications of an “open borders tikanga” where “apparently everything is shared”, and expresses concern about the “implications for the whole motu if this new definition of tikanga spreads”. Will the Crown begin offering redress within one iwi area to an iwi from outside of that area? “Our tikanga, and that of the vast majority of iwi across Aotearoa, does not support the use of whenua in our rohe to settle the Treaty grievances of others. Tikanga does not allow a distant connection to whenua by another group to become a beachhead.”

In some ways, this antagonism within the Treaty settlement process is a uniquely Auckland phenomenon. Few other pockets of New Zealand are so fertile, conducive to maritime trade, densely populated or contain so much valuable commercial and residential property. But the precedent may undermine future settlements where borders and historical relationships are uncertain or contested. For Blair, his people are undeterred. “A court decision cannot and never will change [the true mana whenua status of Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei]. It is for this reason that our battle to have tikanga observed by the Crown will continue. As it would for every iwi that has a heartland where its tikanga reigns.” But this raises an obvious question: if the court cannot change (or presumably confirm) which iwi is mana whenua of Auckland, then why turn to the courts in the first place? In closing arguments, counsel for Ngāti Pāoa noted that it is the final alternative to war. “As arose in discussion with Mr Warren and Mr Mahuika in closing submissions”, writes Justice Palmer, “in some ways litigation is now the modern alternative to resolution by battle which used to be, but is no longer, available to break a deadlock over tikanga”.


Paul Majurey is one of New Zealand’s most successful Treaty negotiators. Under his leadership Pare Hauraki, an iwi confederation with their headquarters on the Coromandel Peninsula, successfully sought and won recognition of their interests in an area stretching from Matakana Island in Tauranga Harbour to Matakana estuary in Northland. “Mai Matakana ki Matakana” is the historical saying that outlines the iwi’s sphere of influence and the web of connections it maintained. Around the 14th century, rangatira from Ngāti Maru, the iwi at the heart of the confederation, fought wars of conquest within those borders, winning military victories over the original peoples and confirming them with political marriages. For a period of time that made Hauraki the dominant power from north of Auckland to the northern Bay of Plenty. The Hauraki tribes were still active in the 19th century, maintaining a maritime economy encompassing the same Matakana ki Matakana area. But did they retain political control?

“Essential to an understanding of Tāmaki is the moana,” explains Majurey. “Water connects, whereas land can divide. It was the waters that influenced relationships with the whenua and the exercise of customary interests. It is no surprise, then, that the presence of the Marutūāhu in and around Tāmaki was via the moana.” Majurey adds that “our old people always emphasised connectedness, whether it be spiritual or living, elemental or inanimate. Whakapapa defines the [connections] and whanaungatanga is the maintenance of these connections… The old people maintained that, when it comes to the whenua and moana, sharing and inclusion is a tangible display of all these fundamental principles.”At the heart of court case, Majurey says, was differing conceptions of tikanga and whether mana whenua and ahikāroa are exclusive or non-exclusive. The court does not make a definitive finding on whether they are, but the effect, if not necessarily the intention, of Justice Palmer’s decision has been to uphold Marutūāhu’s interpretation of the two rights as non-exclusive. Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei can hold mana whenua status as they conceive of it and so too can Marutūāhu — as they conceive of it. According to Majurey, whose lawyerly skills helped secure the decision, this provides an opening for negotiation between the parties. “There are other legal avenues available to all parties, but we seem to have a very good foundation now on what the judge has said to consider that and see where there might be common ground.”

This implies a marae-based, tikanga-led process, but Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei insist that Marutūāhu have resisted repeated requests for a marae-based process. In a stinging op-ed in the New Zealand Herald in June, Blair wrote, “We have sought to debate these matters on the marae. To no avail.” Does this reflect a relative weakness in Marutūāhu’s claims, if their leaders are avoiding the scrutiny of the paepae? Majurey points out that oral history — of Ngāti Maru’s military victories and Hauraki’s maritime networks — alongside the Crown’s written history paints a picture of their historic and contemporary interests. In 1841 the Crown acquired the 40,000-hectare Mahurangi block, a rich strip stretching from the North Shore to Warkworth, from the Marutūāhu tribes. During the Musket Wars, the Marutūāhu tribes, Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei and the other Auckland iwi withdrew from their traditional strong- holds after Hongi Hika’s bloody campaigns. Ngāpuhi’s access to muskets toppled social and political relations across the central and upper North Island, with Ngāti Pāoa, Ngāti Maru, Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei and several other iwi suffering defeats. But Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei, returning under the mana of Te Wherowhero, resumed their occupation and control from the 1830s onward. The other Auckland iwi returned as well. The isthmus, then, should have retained its complex web of relationships at whakapapa and tikanga. But after the upheavals of the Musket Wars, colonisation soon followed. Auckland’s harbour advantages meant trade and immigration took place on both the Manukau and Waitematā, altering the social and political relations in Auckland again. The Crown went on to undertake, first, its purchasing strategy and, following the New Zealand Wars, its confiscation agenda. The Auckland iwi were progressively squeezed, losing their land and kāinga, with many iwi members eventually forced into wage labour in suburbs far from their old homes.

What separates the Marutūāhu and Hauraki tribes from many other iwi is their unique social organisation. Ngāti Maru were a maritime tribe, moving from island to island, kāinga to kāinga, according to the seasons and trade opportunities, says Majurey. The Coromandel tribes sailed out across the Hauraki Gulf, occupying islands for short periods at a time. Historians argue that of other iwi, only Ngāi Tahu were as mobile, shifting from mahinga kai to mahinga kai throughout the year. But other iwi tended to draw harder borders, protecting, in Tūhoe leader Tāmati Kruger’s words, their “heartlands” or “core rohe”. For Ngāti Maru their heartland, at least today, is the Coromandel Peninsula, and for Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei their heartland is central Auckland. It is the Crown’s proposal to offer redress from one iwi’s heartland — the Grafton and Dominion Rd properties in the Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei rohe — to an iwi confederation (Marutūāhu) with a heartland outside of that area, that has sparked all the contestation and hurt.


Institutionally and legally, Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei and Marutūāhu fought each other to a standstill, with equally powerful figures on each side. Ngarimu Blair is an Auckland powerbroker, enjoying a close relationship with the Office of the Mayor of Auckland as well as close commercial relationships with many of the city’s leading businesspeople. But also well connected is Paul Majurey, a master of navigating government processes. Majurey chairs Eke Panuku Development Auckland — which for reasons that are not entirely clear is currently in Mayor Wayne Brown’s sights — and the Tūpuna Maunga Authority. Majurey is also a former director on the board of management of Russell McVeagh, once the most powerful law firm in New Zealand. David Taipari, an ally of Majurey, chairs the Auckland Council’s Independent Māori Statutory Board.

As well as these two heavyweight iwi, however, several smaller iwi have a stake in the debate, including Te Ākitai Waiohua and Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki. Te Warena Taua is a former ethnologist and one of the Kīngitanga’s chief advisers in Auckland; he often accompanies King Tūheitia on his official business in the city. Controversially, when Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki appeared in the High Court opposing Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei’s claim to exclusive mana whenua, the king himself arrived to support Taua and his iwi trust board. Officially, the Kīngitanga is not taking sides, but it was a minor coup for Taua, who explains that his iwi trace their descent to the Tainui waka. In his evidence for the Waitangi Tribunal’s Hauraki Regional Inquiry, Taua gave an account of Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki’s connections to Auckland: “at Rangitoto a duel took place between Hoturoa of the Tainui and Tamatekapua of the Arawa canoe. Both claimed to have been first to set up a tuahu or sacred altar and so lay claim to the ownership of the island. During the duel, Hoturoa struck Tamatekapua, drawing blood, which ended the fight. The incident became known as ‘Te Rangi i totongia a Tamatekapua’ (the day Tamatekapua shed blood) which has now become shortened to Rangitoto.”

That duel establishes Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki’s interests in Rangitoto, explained Taua, and indicates the ancient history his tribe can draw on in the isthmus. The Crown recognises that interest in Rangitoto, and generally recognises an interest from the mouth of the Wairoa River, winding through pastoral land toward its source in the Hunua Ranges. The tribe’s borders then extend to Papakura, where they share connections with Waiohua, before heading north toward Panmure and Mt Wellington. “Ngāi Tai traversed their tribal domain, including the inner islands of the Hauraki Gulf, in a seasonal cycle of harvesting, gathering and fishing,” says Taua. This is similar to the social organisation of Marutūāhu (albeit with a significantly smaller range), and it further illustrates the different dynamics occurring in Auckland compared to other parts of the country. After losing that historical mobility (following the Musket Wars, European colonisation and the ensuing alienation of land and resources), Ngāi Tai was left for many decades without a permanent marae of their own, and forced to rely instead on their relatives’ marae in Papakura before re-establishing their own in historic Maraetai.

On the mana whenua test that Blair articulates on behalf of Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei — ahi kā — this would count against Ngāi Tai’s claims to mana whenua status. How can one claim mana whenua rights without a long-established marae? Ngāti Whātua can point to their illustrious marae in Ōrākei as confirming their mana whenua and signalling, physically and spiritually, their ahikāroa; Ngāi Tai cannot necessarily point to a similarly long-established marae. But in the High Court the parties were careful not to deny Ngāi Tai’s whakapapa. (The king’s presence counts for a good deal, including among Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei, who maintain respect for Te Wherowhero and the institution he founded; and the expert evidence of tikanga specialist Te Kahautu Maxwell, who appeared on behalf of Ngāi Tai, was unquestioned.) Ngāi Tai did, however, oppose Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei’s claim to exclusive mana whenua rights.

Majurey, making the case for Marutūāhu, argued cleverly that Sir Hirini Moko Mead, the Ngāti Awa professor who wrote the leading text on tikanga, states that mana whenua status requires a degree of external recognition to hold. And the tribes appearing in the High Court did not recognise Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei’s mana whenua — as Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei conceived of it. In other words, their conception of exclusive mana whenua could not hold because neither Marutūāhu nor Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki recognised mana whenua status in those terms. On the surface, it was nearly a trump card. But Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei had their own clever hand to play. In January 2017, the leaders of Ngāti Pāoa — an iwi that forms part of Marutūāhu — and Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei met at Ōkahu Bay to sign a kawenata tapu and conciliation agreement. In it, Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei acknowledges that Ngāti Pāoa retains “lead mana whenua interests” in the east of Auckland and on the North Shore. For its part, Ngāti Pāoa recognises that Ngā- ti Whātua Ōrākei retains “lead mana whenua interests” in central Auckland. That places Ngāti Pāoa at odds with its own Marutūāhu negotiators who, as part of their settlement, receive redress from the area where Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei exercise “lead mana whenua interests”.

The kawenata makes it difficult for Marutūāhu to sustain their redress claims. But is this really an inter-iwi fight? In the High Court, Justice Palmer acknowledged that “at the heart of the issues that give rise to these proceedings is how, in negotiating the settlement of historical claims under the Treaty of Waitangi with one iwi, the Crown should approach the overlapping interests of other iwi”. What is generating the conflict, and fanning its flames, is the Crown’s actions rather than different histories of the iwi of the isthmus. If it were not for the Crown’s application of its overlapping-claims policy, offering Treaty settlement redress to one collective without consulting other iwi it might impact, the various Auckland iwi were likely to have gone on co-existing in relative peace.


Map of Auckland district showing tribal boundaries.
Collection of Auckland Museum ca. 1900 Call No.G9083.A82E1

This story was published in Metro N° 437.
Available here.

This story was made possible by
NZ On Air’s Public Interest Journalism Fund


Latest issue shadow

Metro N°442 is Out Now.

In the Autumn 2024 issue of Metro we celebrate the best of Tāmaki Makaurau — 100 great things about life in Auckland, including our favourite florist, furniture store, cocktail, basketball court, tree, make-out spot, influencer, and psychic. The issue also includes the Metro Wine Awards, the battle over music technology company Serato, the end of The Pantograph Punch, the Billy Apple archives, a visit to Armenia, viral indie musician Lontalius, the state of fine dining, and the time we bombed West Auckland to kill a moth. Plus restaurants, movies, politics, astrology, and more.

Buy the latest issue