Cultural managements

“Culture shock” of views on whether farmland is wāhi taonga

A dispute over whether part of a farm in Hawke's Bay should be classed as wāhi taonga, and if so to what extent, made its way to the High Court in Wellington.  (File photo)

Monique Ford / Stuff

A dispute over whether part of a farm in Hawke’s Bay should be classed as wāhi taonga, and if so to what extent, made its way to the High Court in Wellington. (File photo)

A dispute pitting Christian beliefs against wāhi taonga values ​​has been described by a High Court judge as a “direct culture clash over religious views”.

Judge Christine Grice made the comment during an appeal heard in Wellington High Court on Monday.

The case concerns a 70-hectare site on Titiōkura Station in northern Hawke’s Bay, owned by Peter and Caroline Raikes.

The Maungaharuru-Tangitū Trust (MTT) – a post-colonization governance entity representing a collective of hāpu – claimed that the site had cultural significance as it was a traditional sheep-bird hunting site known as the name of Tītī-a-Okura (the sheep birds of Okura) saddle.

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In response to a proposed change to the district plan by Hastings District Council, the trust appealed to the Environmental Court in 2018.

Peter Raikes disputed the evidence given by the trust at the hearing, saying that traditional Maori traditions and related stories and traditions, for example about Ranginui (the sky father) and Papatuanuku (the earth mother), were contrary to the Holy Bible.

The court determined that all the sites in question were wāhi taonga, prompting an appeal to the High Court.

The Raikes’ attorney Lara Blomfield told the court the couple believed checks were being placed on their property based on evidence that went against their “firmly held Christian beliefs”.

These restrictions would limit their ability to use the land as they wished to support these beliefs and they felt their rights under the New Zealand Bill of Rights had been violated, she said.

Blomfield acknowledged that some counter-evidence given by Peter Raikes, based largely on the Bible, had been described as “offensive”, although that was not his intention.

She said it was difficult for landowners like her clients to refute the evidence provided by tangata whenua about their beliefs and they were unlikely to find an expert to give competing evidence.

It was the court’s responsibility to consider this evidence, but that was not done in this case because only “one-sided” evidence was presented and the court did not call on its own independent experts.

Part of the problem was that the nature of the things meant to give the site cultural significance – a traditional hiking trail and a sheep birdwatching site – were “everyday activities”, making the wāhi tapu too large and too general.

“Whether [we were] dealing with a cemetery or a pā site, we probably wouldn’t be here,” Blomfield said.

High Court Judge Christine Grice reserved her decision.  (File photo)

David Unwin / Stuff

High Court Judge Christine Grice reserved her decision. (File photo)

Representative respondents were Kerry Anderson and Matthew Dicken, on behalf of MTT, and Asher Davidson, for Hastings District Council.

Anderson said the site was important to hāpu for a number of reasons and that they viewed the maunga (mountain) as an “indivisible whole”.

She said Maori stories and histories passed on orally did not diminish the information passed on and that unless the evidence is shown not to be credible or reliable, it should be considered by the court.

It was not enough to refute the trust’s claims simply by saying they ran counter to Christian beliefs, adding that the Raikes’ evidence did not include Section 6 of the Resource Management Act.

This requires recognizing and addressing, as a matter of national importance, “the relationship of Māori to their culture and traditions within their … wāhi tapu and other taonga”.

In the absence of other Māori tikanga experts, the tangata whenua evidence must be given significant weight, Anderson added.

Justice Grice acknowledged that this was an important decision and not a matter that had already been heard in court.

She reserved her decision.