Several hundred protesters have marched on Jacinda Ardern’s Auckland office, demanding she visit Ihum?tao, the site of a major indigenous land dispute that has broadened into wider anger at government inaction in tackling M?ori disadvantage.
The protesters plan to deliver a petition, signed by more than 26,000 people, to the prime minister’s office urging her to travel to the site that has been occupied for the past month as part of a housing dispute.
The Ihum?tao protest is an occupation of the land near New Zealand’s earliest market gardens. It is considered a sacred area, as well as being a significant archaeological site. However, Fletcher Building is planning a housing project, which hopes to develop hundreds of homes in the area.
Last month, Ardern asked Fletcher Building to halt any further development until the stand-off was resolved but she has been criticised for failing to visit the peaceful occupation, and her Labour coalition government has drawn increasing ire for failing to improve the lives of the country’s indigenous people – despite having the most M?ori MPs of any political party in New Zealand’s history.
“We are walking to invite Jacinda Ardern to our whenua [land], so she can experience the same feelings we experience every day,” protest leader Pania Newton said before the protest march. “She has a responsibility to come here.”
Ardern will not be at her electoral office to greet the hikoi [march], saying she was “very rarely” there on Thursdays. She said: “But if they wish to know they’ve been heard, I can tell them now, I’ve heard them, I know the issues and that’s why we’ve been involved in trying to help find a solution.”
She has not ruled out visiting Ihum?tao in the future but said talks about the issue were underway. “I want to respect that process. That’s the place where we’re going to get a solution.”
Ardern also said she was open to speaking to protest leader Pania Newton.
People have been leaving fruit and water along the route of the march as they walk along a path next to the state highway and endure heavy rain. Others are also being asked to join in as they make their way to Ardern’s office. The petition has grown by several thousand signatures since the hikoi began.
Local police superintendent Jill Rogers said police recognised everyone’s right to freedom of peaceful assembly. “Police will be monitoring the event to ensure the safety of everyone involved and to ensure there is minimal disruption for the general public as a result of the hikoi,” she said.
The protest movement has even reached the streets of London with artists have showing support for Ihum?tao.
Protest Stencil placed handmade posters around London Transport bus stops and other advertising spaces on Monday.