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New doco dives into controversial 2004 Foreshore and Seabed Act

A new documentary out today revisits one of the largest hīkoi – and most polarizing issues – New Zealand has ever seen.

Hīkoi – Speaking Our Truth, available on TVNZ+ from 12pm, is a deep-dive into the controversial Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004 and the enormous opposition that followed exactly 20 years ago.

Director Whatanui Flavell said learning about this period in New Zealand’s history had never been more relevant.

“When you look at some of the things that happened 20 years go, some of the rhetoric that was coming out is almost identical, word for word, to some of the rhetoric that’s coming out today,” he said.

Hikoi – Speaking Our Truth marks exactly 20 years since thousands of protesters arrived at Parliament grounds, and is available to watch on TVNZ+ today.

“If I can achieve anything, it’s that our people start to realize that whenever our government wants to stand for something vigorous, or stand for something unique, Māori are the first to be thrown under the bus.”

The Foreshore and Seabed Act, introduced by the then Labour-led government, blocked Māori from pursuing customary ownership of the area in the courts and declared that the land was owned by the Crown.

Lawyer Natalie Coates said it extinguished any ownership rights Māori might have had there.

“It did have that wholescale confiscation effect over just a huge area of ​​land,” she said.

“Effectively, it got rid of the ability for Māori to go to Court and vested title in the Crown.”

The legislation was a direct response to a legal fight by Ngāti Apa, based in the Marlborough Sounds, for determination of the foreshore and seabed in the area as Māori customary land.

The Court of Appeal agreed that the case could be heard by the Māori Land Court.

But the Act was passed before that could happen.

“What the legislation then did was set up a series of statutory tests – really tough ones – that Māori had to meet to get some sort of rights,” Coates said.

“They had to prove exclusive use and occupation of an area, as well as owning the adjacent land, so it effectively set up a scheme designed for Māori to get very little rights at all.”

Thousands of people around the country took to the streets in protest and on May 5, 2004 they arrived at Parliament grounds.

The opposition prompted former Labor MP Tariana Turia to resign and later form Te Pāti Māori.

Whatanui Flavell and his team interviewed her for the project.

“It’s almost like Tariana says a few words and those words weigh heavier than any words that anyone else could say. She continues to struggle to believe that she was a part of something like that – the machinery of Labor – for so long,” he said.

“She also really carries strong emotion toward some of her colleagues at the time – their relationship really split over this issue. She was a friend of Helen Clark’s, and she was a good friend of Parekura Horomia, and they never really resolved those relationships. ”

John Tamihere, also a former Labor MP, told 1News Māori Labor MPs had to make some tough decisions.

“Clark said to the Māori caucus that if we were to walk away, she would get confidence and supply out of Winston Peters. We were caught between a rock and a hard place,” he said.

“You either walked away or we stayed and tried to ensure that we lived to fight another day.”

He admitted choosing the latter was difficult.

“The emotional triggers to go and do the same thing were very strong,” he said.

“The easy thing to do was to walk.”

Coates said fearmongering that Māori would block public access to beaches was rife at the time.

“There was a lot of media and fearmongering that Māori were going to take the Kiwi dream – the beach picnic – away from them,” she said.

“It was a response to that fear that was being generated that I think was largely misplaced in terms of the decision that actually came about in the courts.”

Flavell said revisiting the hīkoi was eye-opening.

“When you start to look at the perspectives of Māori lawyers and academics, versus the raw emotion of Hilda and Hone Harawira, you quickly realize it was a pretty important thing for our people,” she said.

“It’s so easy to understand why they were so frustrated and so angry about it.

“The biggest hope now is that we educated our people on these types of injustices.”