The bureaucrats in charge of Auckland’s volcanic cones, known as the Tupuna Maunga Authority (TMA), are engaging in a campaign to remove what they deem as “colonial vegetation” from these natural landmarks. The targeted trees include century-old oak, pine, and other European species that partially cover the volcanic cones. However, this destructive effort is not supported by the local wildlife, as exotic trees provide habitat for various species. Despite this, the TMA, comprised of six tribal representatives and six non-Maori representatives, has taken it upon themselves to remove these trees and replace them with native species in the name of restoring the spiritual essence and life force of the land.
According to the TMA, the indigenous worldview sees the volcanic cones as sacred sites of immense spiritual, ancestral, cultural, customary, and historical significance. This viewpoint, however, disregards the perspectives of non-indigenous residents who also have a stake in the land. This pattern of indigenous takeovers of geographical features is not unique to New Zealand and Australia; it has been witnessed in other parts of the world, such as Ayres Rock/Uluru in Australia and the Glasshouse Mountains in Queensland.
The destruction of non-native trees is symbolic of a larger agenda seeking to erase colonialist history. We have seen this in the Black Lives Matter and Antifa riots of 2020, where statues of historical figures were targeted and toppled. The co-governance system that now manages Auckland’s volcanic cones stems from the Treaty of Waitangi settlements, which handed over control of the land to Maori trusts. Under this system, the City of Auckland municipality collaborates with indigenous representatives, effectively allowing “indigenized” corporate control.
Residents who object to the removal of trees face significant challenges in fighting against these decisions. Averil Norman, an Auckland woman, and her husband took the TMA and the council to court in 2019 to prevent the removal of 2200 mature trees. Although they initially lost the case, they won on appeal in March 2022. However, the TMA ignored the court ruling and resumed tree removals, claiming to have obtained a resource consent from the city for safety reasons.
The TMA’s actions have already resulted in the removal of olives trees and other exotic species that were important nesting and roosting areas for native wildlife. The TMA has an annual budget of $28 million, funded by Auckland ratepayers, for maintenance purposes.
Local residents in Otahuhu had the opportunity to object to the tree removals when the TMA obtained resource consent in 2021. However, without the necessary funds to engage in legal battles, they were unable to effectively challenge the decision.
The ongoing assault on “colonial vegetation” in Auckland’s volcanic cones exemplifies the larger conflict between indigenous rights and historical preservation. While acknowledging the cultural significance of the land, it is essential to find a balanced approach that respects the heritage of all groups, both indigenous and non-indigenous, in shaping and preserving the shared landscape.