Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Protection from Development/Development of Protection: balancing power and capital on Banks Peninsula, New Zealand

In 1830, a murderous event occurred in Akaroa Harbor on Horomaka/Banks Peninsula on the South Island of Aotearoa/New Zealand.  A group of Ngati Toa warriors from the North Island was shuttled down to Akaroa Harbor by a British trade ship, where those on board deceived the local people into thinking they were there for trade.  In fact, they had come to kidnap the Upoko Ariki (paramount chief) of Kai Tahu called TeMaiharanui and to destroy his village of Takapuneke and thus his power.  By doing so, it also allowed Ngati Toa to seize the local trade in flax and greenstone jade (pounamu), which had become very lucrative with the influx of European trade (Evison 1997).  The warriors were successful, but that success had an unintended consequence.  Since a British captain had been involved in the event, an unofficial agreement of non-violence between the British and Maori had been broken.  To restore good relations between the two, the Crown sent it’s first official bureaucrat to New Zealand, starting a chain of events that would lead to the singing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 (Wilson 2002).  In order to include Maori from all over New Zealand in the signing of the treaty, it was taken around both islands to gather as many signatures as possible.  As it turns out, the Treaty of Waitangi was signed at the site of Takapuneke by two of the very few survivors of the events there, completing the circle of actions that started the treaty process ten years prior.    

Since this time, the site of Takapuneke has gone through many ‘constructive’ developmental changes.  By ‘constructive’ development, I mean that a site or area is altered and reordered so that physical construction can occur.  Symbolically, ‘constructive’ development also recreates perceptions of what the site is and may create a discourse to support that perception.  Over the years, Takapuneke was constructed as a cattle ranch and then a hotel for whalers in the mid to late 1800s, and as sewage works and rubbish dump in the 1960s through to the 1990s. These different constructions of the site were all developed under the auspices of Pakeha (white, European-descended New Zealander) and against the protests of local Maori. 

One perception that has not changed about Takapuneke is its value as a wahi tapu (sacred site) to local Maori.  The site is considered tapu (sacred/off-limits) because blood was spilt there, but also because of the remains of their ancestors are still in the land at the site, making the site an urupa (burial ground) (Evison 1997, Huddleston 2008).  As such, the site should be ‘left alone,’ according to Maori at Onuku, the village closest to the site.  They say that the site is still ‘too alive’ and that it should have time to settle.  The best way to accomplish this is not to allow people on the site and to leave it undeveloped.  Unfortunately for local Maori, this outcome seems unlikely. 

The most recent threat of development was the possibility of constructing a section of the sacred site as holiday housing by local government.  Taxes from those houses would then go back into the wider local community as upgrades to necessary infrastructure.  In answer to this plan, Maori from Onuku began protesting local and national government, informing them of the importance of the site as sacred land.  This happened to be a time when Maori culture and power in general were gaining considerable capital in New Zealand, so Onuku rananga’s (governing council) protests were heard and gained traction (Brookfield and Baragwanath 2007).  Whereas the issues behind the extensive history of the site and this vital shift in power are too diverse and complicated to be noted here (see Huddleston 2008), I can report that the result is that the site has been protected from development, as a ‘local historical site’ in 2005 and then re-registered as a ‘Historic Reserve’ in 2010. This latter designation was applied because of the discourse being constructed around the site connecting the events at Takapuneke with the Treaty and thus the creation of the nation.  Moreover, because of the shift in power for Maori in society, the runanga at Onuku has contributed significantly to the decision making process, nearly equal to that of local government.  

This opens the question: now that the site has been saved from ‘development’ (meaning destruction of the sacred site and then reconstruction as holiday homes), how will the site be ‘developed’ as a historic site?  How will the narrowing power differential between Maori and local government have a hand in what occurs at the site in the future? 

An oversimplified and primordialist analysis of this situation might state that the politically dominant government will exert its power over its subordinate population, creating the discourse in its own best interest (Bourdieu 1977).  Keeping that kind of analysis in check is the aforementioned shift in power, whereby Maori now have social and political capital, giving them a place in decision-making on development. However, allowing for some of Bourdieu’s (at-times, heavy-handed) arguments concerning dominant/subordinate power struggles, it is important to note that having a place in the process of development is not the same as creating the process.  The ability to create the process is what Bourdieu called ‘symbolic capital’ (Bourdieu 1986).  As of yet, the council at Onuku gets to participate in the same capacity as any other interested organization, but it does not get to solely define the future of the site. The council is consulted because of the acknowledged sacredness (cultural capital) of the site, yet with its new designation as a ‘historic’ site the focus of the discourse has changed – it is now a predominantly Pakeha-based, bi-cultural history that starts with the death of Maori occupation at the site and is then focused on the story of the signing of the Treaty.  The pre-contact Maori history of the site is simply exempted from the story.  Even though it was the sacredness of the site broadcasted by Maori at Onuku that was the impetus for its protection, the fact is that local Maori have already lost some control over the discourse concerning the site.  So, while the runanga at Onuku has gained significant social and political capital throughout this process, it still lacks the necessary symbolic capital to steer the process, leaving the fate Takapuneke out of its hands. 

Although the site has been protected from constructive development, it has already begun to be developed in another sense.  Being registered as national space, the symbolic implication is that the site is for all New Zealanders, rather than for Maori that hold the site as sacred.  As a press release from Christchurch City Council, the local government authority, states concerning the ceremony marking the creation of the reserve: “The ceremony marks the return of historically significant land back to the nation in the form of a historic reserve” (NZNewsUK 2010) (emphasis added).  Early ideas on how the site might be developed have included walking paths, interpretive panels, or even a conference center that would focus on bi-cultural education.  While all of these ideas completely disregard the Maori stricture against being on the sacred site, there may be very little that Maori can do to stop such plans.  

Here we can see that being ‘saved’ from constructive development, may mean being subjected to a secondary type of what we can call ‘protective’ development that may equate the same amount of physically and symbolically destructive processes.  What might separate ‘protective’ development from ‘constuctive’ development could be the involvement of local peoples.  However, as this case shows, involvement and control of developmental processes is complicated by issues of power.  Even so, the past several decades have shown local Maori to be relentless in the protection of their cultural ideals and the site of Takapuneke, as well as savvy at garnering power on different scales in order to bring their wishes to fruition.  Nevertheless, it remains to be seen whether Onuku Runanga will be able to transform their newfound social and political capital into the symbolic capital needed to truly protect their ancestral, sacred land. 

Chad Huddleston
St. Louis University


Bourdieu, P. 1977. Outline of a theory of practice. Cambridge ; New York, Cambridge University Press. -------- 1986. “The Forms of Capital.” Handbook of Theory of Research for the Sociology of Education. Oxford, Greenwood Press: 241-58. 

Brookfield, F. M. and Baragwanath, David. 1999. Waitangi & indigenous rights: revolution, law and legitimation. Auckland, N.Z., Auckland University Press. 

Evison, H.C. 1997. The long dispute: Maori land rights and European colonization in southern New Zealand. Christchurch, N.Z., Canterbury University Press. 

Huddleston, C. 2009. The Negotiation of Takapuneke: A Study of Maori-State Relations and the Investment of Value in Tapu Lands. Unpublished PhD Thesis. University of Canterbury: Christchurch, New Zealand. 

NZNewsUK. 2010. “Takapuneke Historic Reserve created” ( Accessed 21 December 2010. 

Wilson, J. 2002. “A Place as important as Waitangi?” Conference paper. Wellington, PHANZA: 8.

No comments: