Story: Ngā rōpū tautohetohe – Māori protest movements

Page 3. Land protests

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Historic land protest

Māori protest about land dates back to the 19th century. Māori protested against land loss through petitions and occupations and by destroying survey pegs. Pan-tribal movements, including the Kīngitanga (Māori King movement) and Kotahitanga (Māori parliament movement), were often formed to advocate for Māori land rights. The Repudiation movement, in Hawke’s Bay, was formed to contest inappropriate and unfair land transactions in the region.

1975 hīkoi

In 1975 a hīkoi took place from Te Hāpua in the far north to Parliament in Wellington to protest about land loss. Whina Cooper, who had been the inaugural president of the Māori Women’s Welfare League in 1951, led Te Rōpū Matakite o Aotearoa, the group that organised the hīkoi. The march was similar to the Trail of Broken Treaties, a protest by Native American organisations in the US in 1972. Significantly, the march led to alliances between many Māori organisations, including the Kīngitanga, the New Zealand Māori Council, Ngā Tamatoa and the Māori Women’s Welfare League.

The hīkoi left Te Hāpua on 14 September (Māori language day). Cooper took the first steps, holding the hand of her mokopuna Irene. The march reached Wellington on 13 October 1975. A memorial of rights signed by 60,000 people was prepared and presented to Prime Minister Bill Rowling. This asked for the repeal of all statutes through which Māori land could be alienated, with remaining tribal land invested in Māori in perpetuity. Rowling promised that steps would be taken to address these concerns, but some protesters were not happy with his response. About 60 people set up a Māori embassy on Parliament grounds.

Bastion Point

In 1977–78 Joe Hawke led the Ōrākei Māori Action Group during its 506-day occupation of Takaparawhau (Bastion Point). This land, which had been declared ‘absolutely inalienable’ by the Native Land Court, had over the years been taken from Ngāti Whātua. 800 police and the New Zealand army evicted over 200 protesters from the ancestral lands they had hoped to get back. Over time, through negotiations and a successful treaty claim, Bastion Point was returned to Ngāti Whātua.

Raglan golf course

The Raglan (Whāingaroa) protest raged in the 1970s over the Raglan golf course. The government had taken the land from Māori during the Second World War to use as a military airfield. At the end of the war, the land was not handed back to its Māori owners – instead, part of it became a public golf course. In 1978 an occupation was led by Tuaiwa (Eva) Rickard, and she and other protesters were arrested on the ninth hole of the golf course. The land was eventually returned.

Waitangi Tribunal

Partially as a result of protest, the Waitangi Tribunal was set up in 1975 to remedy breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi. At first it could not look at historical grievances, and was largely ineffective in dealing with land issues. In 1985 the tribunal was given retrospective jurisdiction back to 1840, and became more relevant for the settlement of historical land losses. This change probably resulted in a lessening of protests about historical land issues.


From February to May 1995, Whanganui Māori occupied Pākaitore (also known as Moutoa Gardens), the site of the Whanganui courthouse, to protest at the non-settlement of their treaty claims. After the occupation ended, a tripartite agreement between iwi, government and local government was signed. The Pākaitore Trust was set up to manage the courthouse and surrounding land, which had once hosted a thriving market.

Ngāwhā and Te Kurī a Pāoa

In 2002 an occupation took place at Ngāwhā in Northland, where a new prison was to be built. For local iwi this site included wāhi tapu and the traditional lair of a taniwha, Taukere. Ultimately the occupation was unsuccessful and the prison was built.

The sale to overseas buyers of Te Kurī a Pāoa (Young Nicks Head) in Poverty Bay caused concern to Ngāi Tāmanuhiri. Eventually, after negotiations with the new owner, the headland became a historic reserve and public access was retained.


In 2016 Ihumātao, originally known as Te Ihu-o-Mataoho, on the Manukau Harbour, which neighbours an ancient archaeological site known as the Ōtuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve, was sold to a developer to become the site of a large housing development. Along with much of South Auckland and Waikato, this land had been confiscated by the Crown from its original owners in the 1860s, following the New Zealand Wars

A protest group named SOUL (Save Our Unique Landscape) and supporters from across the country occupied the site for the next three years. SOUL argued the land should be saved from development and returned to Māori ownership, although some mana whenua wanted the housing development to go ahead. In 2019 the protests came to a head, with clashes with police, protests in other cities, and a visit from the Māori king, Te Arikinui Tūheitia Paki, who offered to facilitate talks between the parties. In 2020 the government purchased the land from Fletcher Building, and a Memorandum of Understanding between the Crown, Kīngitanga and Auckland Council set out how they would work together in future. 

How to cite this page:

Basil Keane, 'Ngā rōpū tautohetohe – Māori protest movements - Land protests', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 23 July 2024)

Story by Basil Keane, published 20 Jun 2012, reviewed & revised 11 Jan 2023