A Labour MP has accused Kapiti Expressway workers of being "extremely offensive" to Maori by eating their lunch at a wahi tapu site as historical human remains lay nearby.
Darien Fenton said at a transport and industrial relations select committee meeting yesterday that the workers were spotted eating their lunch at the wahi tapu site at El Rancho, Waikanae, which includes the Takamore urupa, and a macrocarpa known as the Maketu tree.
But the New Zealand Transport Agency denied that the particular site in question was wahi tapu, and believed appropriate protocols were followed.
Ms Fenton told the committee she had spoken to two women from Te Ati Awa. "[They] understood the site was tapu until the archaeologists had finished their work, yet we found workers having lunch onsite which was extremely offensive to local Maori."
Speaking later, she said that seeing workers eating on the sacred site, with recently discovered human remains from the burial site nearby, had shocked her.
"It was incredibly culturally insensitive and showed a degree of ignorance I didn't think existed in New Zealand any more.
"I was pretty gobsmacked by it all. People are already stressed enough. Everybody should know that the whole site is wahi tapu."
Fellow Labour MP Kris Faafoi was also at the site. He did not see the workers eating, but said his understanding was that no-one should have been working there at all.
"As soon as we turned up, the workmen packed up their tools, got in their ute, and got out of there pretty quickly, looking rather sheepish."
Local iwi member Ani Parata saw the workers eating at the site and said it was disrespectful.
"The simplest way to put it is . . . [people] should treat it like you'd treat a church, the sacredness of the church. The land is sacred in the same way to us."
NZTA Wellington Highways manager Rod James said the particular area at El Rancho fell under the jurisdiction of the Takamore Trust.
The site was not identified by the "mandated iwi" as tapu, they had written authorisation to start work at that particular site, and two iwi earthworks monitors were present, he said.
"Workers were assembling to be briefed by iwi and the archaeologist. We are not aware of any concerns about conduct from the mandated iwi."
Mr James said archaeological sites were excavated under supervision of senior archaeologists from Otago University. The protocols were approved by the Historic Places Trust and under constant iwi supervision.
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