Standoff over kaumatua eviction from marae

Last updated 17:50 19/06/2014

HEATED EXCHANGE: Supporters of evicted couple Doug and Ina Cunniffe discussing the situation with police.

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Two kaumatua at the centre of a controversial eviction from Omaka Marae near Blenheim have agreed to move from their home of 16 years.

Doug and Ina Cunniffe had considered their kaumatua flat their retirement home but will look for state housing following a three-month fight to stay at the property.

Today was the deadline for the couple to vacate their home following an eviction decision made by the Omaka Marae Committee.

It followed a heated exchange during a protest outside the marae in opposition to the eviction this morning.

Police were called to the marae after protesters started arriving. 

Seventeen supporters of the Cunniffes held placards in opposition to the protest.

Family, friends and those with connections to the marae stood in silence outside the marae.

But a heated exchange broke out after police told protesters, mostly made up of women, the committee had banned them from entering.

‘‘I am trying not to get you guys in trouble,’’ a constable told the crowd. ‘‘I am trying to help you.’’

During the short stand-off, the Cunniffe’s daughter Di Goulding broke down in tears as emotions heightened. 

Gemma McKinney’s parents were founding members of the marae.

‘‘You have to be strong for your mum and dad,’’ she told Goulding. ‘‘We didn’t come here to be disruptive to the marae. We came to support our kaumatua. There has been a disservice done to them.’’

McKinney was insulted that supporters were banned from going onto the marae, she said.

‘‘Banning their own people is a disgrace. If we don’t stand up who will be standing up for the next generation.’’

After negotiations the protesters were allowed onto the marae under the condition that they were peaceful, went straight to the Cunniffe's house and no media cameras accompanied them.

After a waiata outside the marae the supporters walked in silence to the Cunniffe's house on the edge of the marae.

Goulding said it wasn’t a protest but a march of support. 

‘‘The elderly shouldn’t be treated in this way. What has been happening has just been a personality clash. It shouldn’t have brought about an eviction order. I am really upset with it all.

‘‘This is a community marae, not a private marae. It has got to the stage the [committee] think they can do what they like.’’

Maori Women’s Welfare League member Ruth Hockey said the treatment of the Cunniffes had been an injustice.

Doug Cunniffe said he and his wife were looking for a new home.

‘‘We really wanted to stop here, it is our home. We fought out of principle and the fight has been worth it.’’

Marae manager Kiley Nepia said the committee was awaiting confirmation from the Cunniffes that they intended to leave. 

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Nepia defended the committee’s initial decision to ban the protesters.

‘‘We have people living on the marae,’’ Nepia said. ‘‘We need to be thinking about the safety of everybody.

‘‘The committee negotiated and allowed these people to come on as long as they went straight to the Cunniffes house and were peaceful.’’

- The Marlborough Express


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