Expressway 'land grab' sparks protest

KAY BLUNDELL
Last updated 05:00 06/02/2014

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A lineup of Maori leaders and top writers have made a Waitangi Day protest to the Government over the seizure of novelist Patricia Grace's ancestral land, saying it breaches the Treaty of Waitangi.

The Government has taken 983 square metres of Grace's land north of the Waikanae River for the Kapiti expressway.

Today more than 30 writers, academics and Maori leaders - including Dame Fiona Kidman, Sir James McNeish, Witi Ihimaera and Dame Anne Salmond - have signed an open letter to Prime Minister John Key and Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee, urging the Government not "to literally bulldoze a road through the land", which they say is of "major historical significance".

They say they are aware many people have lost land to the expressway, and they "have every sympathy for them", but they believe "Patricia's land is a special case that deserves to be exempt from the current plan".

Grace said yesterday that she was thrilled with the support, which was unprompted by her.

"The Crown, iwi and Waitangi Tribunal are working very hard to redress the past, while the Public Works Act is still able to take Maori land," she said. "It is like compensating with one hand and taking with the other.

"Maori land should be outside the Public Works Act. No more Maori land should be taken."

Issues of Maori land and loss feature throughout Grace's fiction, which includes works such as Potiki and Tu.

"Her place in New Zealand literature is remarkable and unquestionably significant," the signatories write. "She should not have to fight, particularly at her stage of life [she is in her late 70s], to retain a piece of land that is hers by whakapapa . . . she should pass it on to her descendants."

The land once belonged to her great-great-grandfather Wi Parata Te Kakakura, who gifted large sections of it to Waikanae.

Grace was approached by the New Zealand Transport Agency to sell it "after the deadline for consultation", the signatories say, in what they describe as "aggressive and insulting" tactics.

She has taken the matter to the Maori Land Court, lodged an appeal with the Environment Court and is waiting for the cases to be heard.

History professor Paul Moon, of Auckland University of Technology, said the act conflicted with the Treaty, which guaranteed Maori "full, exclusive and undisturbed possession of land". "It is a breach, a direct violation of the Treaty."

Dame Fiona said the signatories were bound as writers to be of one voice. "It is absolutely atrocious, particularly given the history of so much land being gifted by her ancestor . . . the awful irony of giving with one hand and taking with the other in terms of the Public Works Act. All New Zealanders should stand up and speak," she said. Poet and musician Hinemoana Baker said: "It seems more than criminal . . . it is historically, heart-breakingly criminal . . . with particular significance to who Wi Parata was and who Patricia is."

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NZTA spokesman Rod James said it considered and consulted on several route options around Grace's land. "The alignment selected [affecting her property] avoids the urupa and a considerable amount of wahi tapu land further north."

The agency was "continuing to talk with Mrs Grace and hope to make constructive progress towards a positive resolution". It was disappointed by the claims of aggressive and insulting tactics.

"We are unaware of any prior complaints from her making such allegations. We would be willing to investigate this if she formally details her concerns to us."

- The Dominion Post

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