Ngati Tamaahuroa Haapu Reclamation

STAYING PUT: Sandra Ngatai and her three-year-old daughter - also Sandra - with other occupiers at Te Kiri School in Taranaki. Resolution of the dispute through giving the occupiers free land leases has upset National MPs.

The occupation was no more illegal than the Crown's unlawful confiscation in 1863, she said.

Friday, 27 Apr 2007
Taranaki school occupiers told 'stay for free'

Maori involved in the illegal occupation of two schools, including alleged vandalism and apparent theft of thousands of litres of water, are set to be rewarded with free land leases.
The proposed deal has outraged the National Party, which says it sets a precedent for ''bullying'' protesters who take over disputed Government property, trash it then get their way.

Leaked Education Ministry documents show the Treaty Settlements Office is prepared to lease Taranaki's disused Pihama and Te Kiri schools to two occupying hapu at no cost.

The schools have allegedly suffered $23,000 damage, including broken locks and windows, graffiti and stolen fittings.

Titahi and Ngati Tamaahuroa hapu moved into the schools in March amid claims the classrooms were built on confiscated land.

Though the occupation was illegal, the ministry decided not to act because previous efforts to evict illegal occupiers from Crown land had taken up to nine months, the documents show. Officials wanted the matter resolved through negotiation, not confrontation, a spokesman said.

Though one school was earmarked for sale, the Government had put both aside for potential use in settlement claims with local iwi.

National's Taranaki-King Country MP, Shane Ardern, said up to 20 protesters had taken over buildings and were still living illegally at Te Kiri School.

The ministry disconnected water and electricity supplies but they used utilities from a nearby house till the owner cut them off and made a burglary complaint to police.

Protesters had broken windows, graffitied buildings and filled a school swimming pool for use ''like a bloody bathtub'', Mr Ardern said.

He was angry the Government planned to reward their behaviour and said the occupation had sparked widespread concern.

National's education spokeswoman Katherine Rich said the proposed deal showed Maori could illegally circumvent the Treaty settlement process to their benefit, and set a dangerous example.

Hawera Senior Sergeant Michael Hannah confirmed police had received complaints over water and electricity theft, burglary and a dogbiting incident involving Mr Ardern's heifer, which was grazing nearby. No charges had been laid.

Hapu spokeswoman Sandra Ngatai conceded the occupation was illegal ? but denied protesters had caused $23,000 damage.

Government officials met hapu leaders last week to offer them the lease deal. The hapu were considering the offer but were more interested in outright ownership than a lease arrangement, she said.

''They came to where we were occupying and they offered us the buildings with nil rent.

''We're sort of deciding whether to do that because it's not really what we want. We want the land back at no cost.''

The occupation was no more illegal than the Crown's unlawful confiscation in 1863, she said.

Treaty Settlements Office director Paul James said officials were working with the ministry to find a resolution.

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