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Farms Not Jails: Citizens Say No to More Dog Cages

5 June 2002

Farms Not Jails: Citizens Say No to More Dog Cages - Kaikohe Residents Joined by Supporters from Around the Country to Protest New Prison Siting at Ngawha

Ngawha Springs, Kaikohe

Yesterday June 4, 2002 at Ngawha near Kaikohe concerned citizens from Wellington, Rotorua, Hamilton, and Auckland joined local residents of Kaikohe and other parts of Northland to protest the construction of a new prison at Ngawha. The decision to reoccupy the site was instigated by traditional landowners after exhausting their resources in a number of legal strategies, which has left the Wihongi family and Gin Spa Hotel with over $50,000 in lawyer and court fees.

In what was a ridiculous debacle, police moved on to the site at 7am and arrested 37 people who were peacefully protesting the prison siting at Ngawha. Some 20 members of Te Taumata Kaumatua O Ngapuhi nui tonu (council of Ngapuhi elders) were on the site. Surprised at not being given the opportunity to mediate rising tensions between the police and protestors, many of the elders became distressed and refused to leave the site until they were eventually handcuffed and shuffled to jail. Despite the presence of Ngapuhi elders and young, Corrections Minister Matt Robson invoked the Trespass Act on behalf of the Government.

Court staff and duty solicitors failed to control confused and outraged supporters at the District Court, and local lawyers also failed to appear on behalf of the protestors. Rotorua-based lawyer Annette Sykes agreed to represent their case pro-bono. Arrested elders were later remanded-at-large by the District Court Judge. In an act of unconscionable violence that mirrors the policing strategies of the Spring Bok Tour, the remaining protestors, most of whom were women were locked in their cell with a police dog. They were eventually granted bail on the condition that they not return to the building site or block the entrance to the prison.

The idea of building a 350-bed prison at Ngawha was extremely controversial after feasibility studies carried out by the Department of Corrections had indicated concerns about its suitability. A full environmental impact statement has yet to be carried out on the site that is famous for it's geological activity. Questions were raised regarding potential threats that the area's hydrogen sulphide levels might present for prison occupants. High concentrations of hydrogen sulphide are as lethal as cyanide. It is deleterious to electrical components, and its solution in rainwater and oxidization can lead to a mild acidic solution that causes accelerated corrosion in some metals. (See Nandor Tanzcos, "General Debate Speech in Parliament, 17 May 2000.)

This particular concern was raised in parliament as early as 2000 after the decision was made by Matt Robson to give prison construction the go ahead despite findings of a Department of Corrections survey that had ranked Ngawha 34th on it's list of most preferred sites. A small group of trustees of Ngati Rangi Ahuwhenua had previously offered the portion of Ngati Rangi land in the Ngawha lease without consultation with their beneficiaries. A meeting was held later in March 2002 where beneficiaries voted overwhelmingly against the use of their land for a prison.

Soon after, the Corrections Department applied pressure to a young couple, the Timberleys, who held the land title for the property next door. After months of intimidation and threats to take their title under the Public Works Act, the Corrections Department succeeded in acquiring the property where construction has now commenced. In the meantime, local opposition to the siting of the prison at Ngawha saw the creation of a local petition that generated over 1600 signatures in one week.

While there has been an organized campaign to stop the construction of the new prison, the voices of the people have failed to be heard through legal channels such as the environment court or parliament. This act of desperation by local citizens to stop the desecration of their historical wahi tapu (sacred place) saw many who had never been arrested before handcuffed and dragged away to cells. Among them were Maori wardens who were deeply shocked by the ignorance of police officials who failed to recognize that they were on-site to perform their usual role as keepers of peace and order.

Minister Matt Robson's response to the protests was that "work must go on." This flippant attitude toward the over 70-year-old elders was also shared by Northland MP John Carter. Carter accused the representatives of the Ngapuhi Council of elders as "not having any standing." On national radio he shared his irrational view, "I don't give a toss who they are," he said, "regardless of who they are, they must go." Activist Titiwhai Harawira responded by clarifying to Mr. Carter that "the Ngapuhi elders were not on site as protesters, but land owners."

Ngawha is a truly unique place. There is only one other place in the world with hot springs of the same type, and the curative properties of Ngawha are legendary. The local area is full of amazing features such as fossilized kauri leaves, old mercury mines and native ecologies. Local citizens say the prison will destroy the region's history and economy and will provide an environmental disaster. While the prison may provide a temporary boost to local contractors and businesses during the construction phases, the group says these economic benefits won't last.

Across the country, farmland, wildlife, rural people and Maori hopes for economic prosperity are being bulldozed to build new prisons. "We need to re-organise our priorities as a nation," said one supporter. "Building prisons to incarcerate more and more people is simply short-sighted. In our community, the real need is for schools, education and other services. People are coming together today to say that we want good jobs and sustainable economic development, not jails and prisons that focus on punishment as opposed to meaningful rehabilitation."

Why the prison should not be built at Ngawha

dot The experience of other rural communities with prisons shows that over time land values decrease, locally-owned businesses fail, and more attractive industries do not want to locate in prison towns. (See "Thomas Michael Power, Lost Landscapes and Failed Economies, Washington, DC: Island Press, 1996 p 24)

dot The infrastructure of Kaikohe will be stretched to breaking point. Because of the natural presence of mercury in the areas groundwater, the water is undrinkable. Water will instead be pulled from Kaikohe, which is already struggling to sustain current water supply needs. Similarly, the local sewerage system is under strain and has been leaking into ground water systems. (See Nandor Tanzcos, "General Debate Speech in Parliament, 17 May 2000.)

dot The cost of the prison is estimated to be $101 million. Treasury has refused to give this much to the Corrections Department. It will provide $82 million and suggests that Corrections ask for the rest from the Regional Development Fund. The government's Regional Development Fund is offering a total of $700,000 for all of Northland. The Department of Corrections can hardly afford to build the prison, let alone provide much needed monies to develop Kaikohe's infrastructure. (See

dot The area has more potential than anywhere else in the mid-North to generate employment. There are two hot pools businesses, both of which stand to lose from the visible presence of a large prison. The Ginn Spa Hotel has begun to run history and eco-tours for overseas visitors. Night walks include glow-worms and kiwi ­ the bright lights of a prison compound 200m away will kill those.

Historical and Cultural Significance of Ngawha

Ko Moi te maunga (Moi is the mountain) Ko Ngawha te tangata (Ngawha is the person) He aroaro wahine (The passage to the womb of a woman) He ara mahana (He ara wahana)

dot Mana Whenua During one of his frequent adventures, the high priest of Te Arawa waka, the tohunga Ngatoro-i-te-Rangi, went to Tongariro and was caught in the snow. He then summoned his two sisters, Te Pupu and Te Hoata to his aid. According to oral tradition, the sisters arrived from Hawaiiki in the form of a taniwha. The taniwha emerged in Ngawha, then Rotorua and finally Taupo - creating the "fire waters" of these areas. This story links the geothermal areas in Aotearoa and also those of the Pacific "Ring of Fire."

dot Waiwhariki Te Uri-o-Hua and Takotoke hold the proposed prison site as wahi tapu and the Ngawha Stream as awa tapu because the bones of their ancestors have not been removed since they fell in the second Waiwhariki battle (about 1793). There had been ill-feeling between Te Huki of Ngati Hineira, Ngati Rangi, Ngati Pou and Kauteawha of Ngati Rahiri.

dot Takauere Takauere is the revered taniwha and spiritual guardian of Ngawha and other inland waters of the North that are connected by it's acquifer. The site is a part of the geothermal field whose special properties are regarded as taonga-tuku-iho for Ngapuhi-nui-tonu (not only those who live there). The healing and life giving powers of the Wai Ngawha hotpools are well known. Following the sound defeat of the English at the Battle of Ohaeawai, Hone Heke and his wounded bathed in these healing waters.

Te Karere Ipurangi / Independent Mäori News
News release (c) Te Karere Ipurangi

No prison for Ngawha


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