Ihumātao: Cook Islands royalty visits disputed site
Cook Islands royalty has visited the long-disputed Ihumātao construction site.
Queen Pa Upokotini Ariki of Takitumu Vaka met protesters at the site, near Auckland International Airport, just after 12pm on Tuesday.
In preparation of her arrival, a marquee was erected, planter boxes were moved and the concrete was swept.
A crowd gathered along both sides of the road as Pa Ariki was formally welcomed onto the protest site.
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After hearing from the protesters, she said there were many lessons she would take back home with her.
"Coming here and witnessing these things gives me some peace of mind about how I would deal with my people," she said.
"I've got an issue back at home – I want to change [the country's] name from 'Cook Islands' to a local traditional name. Why? Because Captain Cook never discovered my island, I mean he never stepped foot on it. [Why] do I have to have his name?"
She said throughout the world, indigenous people weren't being treated correctly.
Pa Ariki said she felt welcomed as she walked up to the protest site and could see how peaceful the people were.
"I didn't have to think about any violence happening."
Tuesday marked one week of protests at the site, since Fletcher Building issued eviction notices to people occupying the land.
They object to plans to build 480 homes and say the area is wāhi tapu, or sacred to Māori.
Pa Ariki's visit came a day after protest leader Pania Newton, from Save Our Unique Landscape (SOUL), said protesters would continue to hold the land "peacefully and passively".
"We are seeking written confirmation from Fletchers that there will be no construction on the whenua until we have reached a resolution for Ihumātao where all parties are at the table in good faith."
Newton asked Fletcher Building and police to leave the land with all of their equipment.
That was so protesters could enter the land exercise their "kaitiakitanga and guardianship" over it, she said.
Newton's call came just days after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern pushed pause on the development by announcing the Government would step in to help broker talks, working with mana whenua and Fletcher Building.
In a statement on Monday afternoon, Counties Manukau district commander, superintendent Jill Rogers, said the number of police officers at Ihumātao had been reduced.
"Police will however remain at the site to keep the peace and for safety reasons, given the current size of the protest action," she said.
"We welcome the constructive dialogue with protest organisers as we work together to ensure the protest remains safe and peaceful."
A Stuff reporter at Ihumātao on Monday confirmed there had been an "obvious shift" in the police's presence.
"Where previously there were over 20 police cars at the entrance, there is now only one. On Friday, dozens of officers maintained the Police line. This morning there are only a handful."