For Te Kawerau ā Maki who are the mana whenua of Waitākere, the death of our forest is an existential threat. It would also see the loss of a nationally significant taonga (treasure) for the people of New Zealand.
The Waitākere Ranges Heritage Area Act (2008) directs the Government and Auckland Council to ensure the protection and enhancement of the Waitākere Ranges Heritage Area. Te Tiriti o Waitangi requires the Government to protect tangata whenua and our taonga.
The health of the forest is reaching an ecological tipping point, and Te Kawerau ā Maki will act to protect the forest for future generations.
Te Kawerau ā Maki subsequently have decided to place a rāhui (customary prohibition) over the Waitākere forest to prevent and control human access until effective and appropriate research, planning and remedial work is completed to ensure the risks are neutralised or controlled. The Government and Auckland Council have subsequently enforced the rāhui with official track closures and the use of Controlled Area Notices.
The rāhui has been laid over the Waitākere forest itself (the ‘ecological catchment’) to quarantine or prevent human access. As a matter of tikanga (customs), the purpose of the rāhui is to enable the environment to recuperate and regenerate without the presence and impacts of humans. Its purpose is both physical and spiritual protection. The placement of a rāhui in this situation is focused on the forest (kauri ecology), and is not limited or constrained by infrastructure or property boundaries. As the forest is more than simply the Waitākere Ranges Regional Park, the rāhui will extend beyond the park boundaries.
The Waitākere Ranges Heritage Area (WRHA) is the approximate boundary of the rāhui for two reasons: (1) the Waitākere forest can largely be captured within this boundary, and (2) the WRHA Act provides legislative support for the protection objectives of the rāhui. In addition to the WRHA Goldies Bush is included in the rāhui area as it is part of the forest.
In acknowledgement of the distribution of the forest and complexities of landuse, the rāhui takes a pragmatic approach. Within the rāhui area public access to parks will be completely prohibited except for upgraded and reopened tracks. Access will not be restricted to: (1) beaches (nor open spaces adjacent to beaches), (2) the Arataki Visitors Centre, (3) public roads, or (4) private property or (5) upgraded and reopened tracks.
The rāhui will cover areas of private property that fall within and are inseparable from the forest, but will not impact upon any private property rights or uses. It is hoped that property owners within the rāhui area will understand and respect the rāhui and be empowered to act as part of and guardians to the forest. In essence we want to work in partnership and collaboration with property owners to ensure that the threat of kauri dieback is contained and managed within their individual properties to help safeguard the whole.
Waitākere forest faces many risks other than kauri dieback, not least of which are invasive weeds and pests. The management of these pests and weeds is also vital to a healthy forest, and subsequently there is a need for some form of wider pest and weed management to continue within the rāhui area. Although the rāhui is a prohibition on human presence and activity, small numbers of managed organisations whose core purpose is protecting the forest may be authorised by the iwi to continue operations in a controlled manner. This will be implemented via a ‘warrant’ system where selected partner organisations can continue controlled operations in compliance with minimum kauri dieback standards.
Why aren’t people listening?
Māori researchers Melanie Mark-Shadbolt and Dr James Ataria spoke to a number of kaumatua and kaitiaki around the North Island to discuss what can be done to protect our taonga.
Tiriwa is a celebrated ancestor of Te Kawerau ā Maki, the tangata whenua (people of the land) of West Auckland.
Te Warena Taua of Te Kawerau ā Maki, describes the feats of Tiriwa in the following passage:
“Our ancestor, the Turehu chieftain Tiriwa, lived throughout the extensive forest which once covered West Auckland, the remnant of which is now the Waitākere Ranges. It is from this ancestor that the traditional name for Waitākere, Te Wao nui a Tiriwa – the great forest of Tiriwa, comes. Tiriwa is credited with amazing feats, including the ability to walk across the land in great strides and to change the landscape. In a Te Kawerau ā Maki tradition known as ‘Te Unuhanga o Rangitoto’, Tiriwa is credited with shifting Rangitoto Island from Mercer Bay at Karekare to its present position at the entrance to the Waitemata Harbour. Tiriwa and his many feats continue to be remembered by Te Kawerau ā Maki in tradition, song and carving.”