NZ: Airport protesters arrested

9 Sept – A 28-hour occupation of Kaitaia Airport by Ngati Kahu has ended in a blaze of tyres and five arrests.

The airport occupation, which began just before lunchtime on Tuesday, was brought to an abrupt end as police moved in just before 3pm today.

Action leader Wi Popata, of Ngati Kahu, said the occupation was a protest against a $100 million Treaty of Waitangi settlement this week.

The Te Hiku Claims Settlement Bill was read for its third and final time in Parliament today, ratifying the settlements of four of five Muriwhenua iwi – Te Aupouri, Ngai Takoto, Te Rarawa and Ngati Kuri. Ngati Kahu is the only Te Hiku iwi to not yet settle.

Northland District Commander Superintendent Russell Le Prou said negotiations with the protesters had failed to reach a resolution and police were left with no choice.

Evicted protesters at Kaitaia Airport. Photo / Edward Rooney
Evicted protesters at Kaitaia Airport.

About 20 police went to the airport and closed the access roads. The protesters were given the ultimatum of leaving on their own accord or being arrested.

Six members of the occupation remained on a bench seat in the airport carpark and were each individually arrested.

Tensions flared when the departing protesters lit fires on either side of the airport driveway, fuelled by tyres and fenceposts.

The Kaitaia Fire Station sent one appliance to put out the bonfires. Protest leader Mr Popata said the fires were “signals”.

“It was to show the shit we’ve been through. It’s to remind people of the houses, the marae, the taonga that has been destroyed.”

He said he and his brother Hone had left the airport rather than be arrested after being urged to leave by older protest members.

“Our people didn’t want us to be arrested,” he said.

“They wanted us to come out and carry on.”

Wi Popata said the protest would return, despite having now been formally trespassed from the property.

“We’ll be back. We will mobilise our iwi and we will come back and take our land.”

Hikoi to Kaitaia Airport for occupation by Ngati Kahu. Photo / Edward Rooney

The Far North Mayor John Carter said flights were expected to resume by tomorrow morning.

About 50 people had gathered at the Oturu Marae before walking to the occupation site with fence posts and corrugated iron to construct a marae. They went to the front desk and informed Barrier Air pilot Sam Bowering they were taking over the facility. The airport’s operators locked the terminal building as the protesters gathered outside to hear speeches in the carpark.

One of the organisers, Hone Popata, had said that and all air operations would be closed.

“We are in charge now,” he said. “We’re here to fight and to take back our land.”

Police asked the occupiers to allow the airport company Far North Holdings to retrieve a Barrier Air craft and a fuel truck, which was agreed to. “It’s only a plane,” one woman said. “We want our land.”

Ngati Kahu Iwi occupy the Kaitaia airport. Photo / Supplied via Facebook

Wi Popata said the airport land was important to three hapu of Ngati Kahu – Patukoraha, Ngai Tohianga and Ngai Takoto – and included important boundaries, with two urupa in the area. The Matenga-Erstich whanau said the owners were “repossessing” land taken for an airfield in WWII.

Protesters appear to be building a marae in the Kaitaia Airport car park. Protesters building a marae in the Kaitaia Airport

Ngati Kahu and Ngai Takoto have each been offered the right to buy 50 per cent of Kaitaia Airport in their respective Treaty of Waitangi settlements.

But if Ngati Kahu does not settle with the Crown within three years, 100 per cent will be offered to Ngai Takoto, Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson told Parliament today.

The offer for the airport is conditional on the land remaining an airport and the right to purchase takes effect in three years.

“If Ngati Kahu have not concluded a treaty settlement within three years of Ngai Takoto settlement date, around December 2018, then Ngai Takoto will have the sole right to purchase the property,” Mr Finlayson said during debate on four northern settlements: Ngati Kuri, Te Aupouri, Ngai Takoto and Te Rarawa.

“This approach was taken because the Crown had to balance the interests of both iwi while ensuring certainty about the future of the airport.”

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