BY FELICITY COGGAN
TAKAHUE, New Zealand - At 6:30 a.m. on the morning of March 29, a group of Maori from this small Northland settlement moved into the local schoolhouse. The several dozen protesters who have occupied the school since then are demanding that the title to the land on which the school stands be returned to them.
The six acres they are claiming are part of 4,500 acres purchased by the government in 1875, in a transaction the protesters, descendants of the original owners, regard as invalid. The school has been closed since the mid 1980s and used as an army training camp and for community activities since then.
Once their title is established, the protesters plan to ask the local community to manage the site as a marae (meeting place) for the people of the area. Takahue is just south of Kaitaia, a town of 8,000 in the far north of New Zealand.
Bill Perry, a spokesperson for the protesters, explained to Militant reporters who visited the occupation April 22 that the land they are claiming has been set aside in a government controlled Landbank together with other property in the region. This Landbank allegedly protects lands currently subject to claims under the Waitangi Tribunal from sale pending settlement of the claims.
Reject leasing land they own
However, the protesters are concerned that sales and leases of these lands are in fact proceeding, and without the required consultation with the claimants. Perry explained that they recently rejected a proposal to lease the site believing they should not be required to lease land they already own.
Many of the participants here have been involved in other political protests. An ex-seafarer described how, while in Australia with his ship, he had participated in demonstrations for Aboriginal land rights. He said the school occupation here was inspired by the example of the occupation of Moutoa Gardens in Wanganui. "The time was ripe," he said.
Representatives of the Takahue protest have visited the Wanganui occupation and two leaders of the Wanganui protest recently spent a day and night at Takahue.
Involved in other protests
Other protests have taken place in the Far North over the past few months and many of those occupying the school wanted to talk about their participation in these activities. All had joined the demonstration of 6,000 in Kaitaia in February, which succeeded in forestalling government plans to downgrade the local hospital. "That was a great day," said Perry.
Many had also been part of a series of protests last December against the dropping of 1080 poison to kill opossums in nearby forests. Groups of up to 70 protesters confronted a large police deployment, setting up camps, marching in Kaitaia, and successfully foiling one air drop, although others went ahead.
As well as being concerned about the environmental effects of the poison on the forests where local people gather food, they were demanding the government set up a scheme to hunt opossums for processing as pet food, which would create jobs in the area.
Northland has the highest level of unemployment in the country and has been hard hit by job losses in farming, fishing, forestry, and meat processing.
Another group of 30 Northland Maori occupied the mineral baths at Ngawha Springs April 24, about 60 miles south of Kaitaia. Despite the Waitangi Tribunal recommending two years ago that the baths be returned to them, no action had been taken and the baths and buildings had fallen into disrepair. The group forced the local council to demolish the buildings the same day and plan to clean up the baths.
Felicity Coggan is a member of the Meat Workers Union in
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