27 Feb 2015

20th anniversary of Whanganui's Pakaitore

8:09 pm on 27 February 2015

It's 20 years since the noho of Whanganui's Pakaitore, or Moutoa Gardens - a protest that lasted for 79 days.

Pakaitore Whanau walking from Moutoa Gardens at the end of the 79 day occupation.

Pakaitore Whanau walking from Moutoa Gardens at the end of the 79 day occupation. Photo: Raukotahi Whanganui

Mana whenua argued the site was a pā and a traditional place for trade and was never part of the Crown purchase of Whanganui - something the city denied.

Whanganui Iwi have started a three day celebration at Pakaitore, or Moutoa Gardens, to mark 20 years since they came on to the whenua to draw attention to their concerns over their claims to the Whanganui River.

One of the Pakaitore spokespeople Ken Mair said the theme of what they were doing today was no different to what their intentions were two decades ago, and that was to rally the people together as a sign of tribal solidarity.

"What I do remember is actually the unity of thought, the unity of us as a people wanting to make sure that people understood us as an iwi in regard to the many issues that faced us as an iwi."

"And, to be quite frank the behaviour and attitude of the Crown towards us at that particular time," he said.

Mr Mair said what did not help was the way in which some mainstream media, who showed their ignorance to why Maori were fighting for their Treaty rights, portrayed them in a negative light.

"They continued to place us in a very adversarial, confrontational behaviour, and, as you know down [at] Pakaitore the make up of our people and the want to celebrate who we are as an iwi, as a people was the most important thing," said Mr Mair.

The Radio New Zealand journalist who was sent to report on the event was Peter Fowler, who is now a regional reporter based in Napier.

He said although other reporters were fixated on reporting the reaction of the National Government of the time, he was there to tell the story from the iwi's perspective which gained him the trust of Ken Mair.

"I think I earned his trust simply by, as any good journalist should do, is just by reporting the facts, reporting what you see, and that's what I did and I got a lot of flack for doing that," said Mr Fowler.

"People started calling me a 'Maori sympathiser' and whatever that is. And that's what I saw my role as, there were plenty of other people in Radio New Zealand reporting what Jim Bolger had to say, the Prime Minister at the time, what the opposition was saying.

"But the real story I felt was there and the story was about those people and what they had gone through and what their ancestors had gone through."

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Radio New Zealand journalist Peter Fowler, who reported on the 79-day occupation of Pakaitore. Photo: RNZ

The mayor of Whanganui Annette Main said 20 years ago was a completely different world to how things were now in 2015.

Whanganui mayor Annette Main.

Whanganui mayor Annette Main. Photo: RNZ

The council did have a strained relationship at times, but now it was one of mutual respect and a willingness to co-operate in the spirit of bi-culturalism.

"Well, look I think it's a trusting relationship now, there were relationships in those times, but they, I believe, and this is my opinion, they were quite guarded," said Mrs Main.

"Now it's a trusting relationship and I do believe that we can talk frankly to each other about our mutual aspirations, and yeah we live in a different world now both in Whanganui and New Zealand, where we realise how important it is to recognise our past, recognise the mistakes that we've made in the past."

Whanganui iwi leader Ken Mair agreed and said it was reflected by the council's decision to add the 'h' to the district's name.

The iwi had an open and honest relationship with the district council.

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