Lake Horowhenua: Maori Protesters Occupy Sailing Club

15 Sept – On his way back from terminating the Maori occupation of Kaitaia Airport, Police Superintendent Wallace Haumaha was diverted to Lake Horowhenua to deal with another Maori occupation.

Last Sunday, more than twenty Mua-Upoko owners took possession of the former Sailing Club building overlooking this privately-owned lake.

Superintendent Haumaha warned these owners he could arrest them and lock them all up in jail, but was prepared to let the status quo remain while he conducted some investigations.

However, former Horowhenua District Councillor Anne Hunt was on hand to show Superintendent Haumaha copies of various court judgements including one from the Supreme Court confirming that the clubs were unlawfully occupying buildings that belong to Mua-Upoko.

She also pointed out that the Crimes Act justifies owners entering their own buildings during the daytime for the purpose of taking possession thereof.

Mrs Hunt says she is concerned that the police still assume that Lake Horowhenua is the subject of a Treaty claim.

“This is far from the truth”, she says. “A certificate of title was issued in 1899 for the bed of the lake and all the land surrounding it. It was then declared ‘inalienable’ by the Appellate Court.”

Nevertheless, Parliament passed a law in 1905 letting the public use this privately-owned lake free of charge.

Mrs Hunt says research commissioned by the Waitangi Tribunal confirms her suspicion that the Crown never bothered to consult the owners first, and as far as she is concerned, that is “theft by statute”. The owners have never received any compensation for the use of their lake.

Both the Rowing and Sailing Clubs had erected clubrooms on this freehold land without bothering to get permission from the owners first. The Court has already confirmed that as fixtures, these buildings now belong to the Mua-Upoko owners.

The other Domain building is occupied by members of the Horowhenua Rowing Club, who refuse to vacate the building even though their licence to occupy expired in 2007.

The Court of Appeal has since established that the Reserves Act prohibits any attempt to extend this lease even on a month-by-month basis.

Last Sunday, the owners recorded footage of the rowers trespassing on a waahi tapu site to launch their boats. Judge Atkins had warned them not to do so, and had summoned Police Inspector Mark Harrison to an in-Chambers hearing to put in place protocols to prevent further culturally-offensive behaviour.

Cr Jo Mason testified in court that rowers urinated in this area because there are no toilets in the building.

Mrs Hunt says that many of the owners believe they have been forced to tolerate this situation long enough. As 30 October marks 110 years since the Horowhenua Lake Act was passed, the owners are preparing to take back control of their own property and decide who can use their own facilities.

Plans are in place to set up a waka ama club this weekend, and negotiations will continue this week to decide what happens to the northern building at the Domain.

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