Kelly Hodel / Stuff
Ngāti Wairere historian Wiremu Puke wants the Sonning car park, owned by the council, to be transformed into a green space that helps honor the iwi’s history.
According to a historian from Ngāti Wairere, the Council-owned Sonning car park in central Hamilton, potentially intended for apartments or other developments, should instead become a green space and memorial for local Maori.
“I think it’s a good chance for the council to redeem past mistakes” over building the car park on a former Ngāti Wairere pā site and likely cemetery, said Wiremu Puke, who says he has support from some iwi members. for his idea.
Ngāti Wairere’s ancient Opoia pā stretched from the current car park near the Waikato River to nearby Jesmond Park and beyond, and the site has a rich history of tangata whenua, he said on Wednesday.
The pā is said to have been abandoned when his rangatira Poukawa died in the late 1840s or early 1850s, said Puke (Ngāti Wairere, Ngāti Porou, Ngāpuhi).
Poukawa was a signatory to the Treaty of Waitangi at Port Waikato.
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Puke often said that upon the death of such a chief, a pā might be abandoned and “it usually becomes a burial place”.
“Because the pā has been changed, it does not mean that history has been erased.”
Puke said he would prefer to see any commercial redevelopment plans for the site transferred to Ruakura and the old pā site revert to an open green space, with reconstruction of the pā earthworks, ramparts and ditches “if and where possible”. .
It would help modern people connect with Poukawa’s story.
“It would be nice to have a pou (raised pole) representing it…and to symbolize the town’s connection to a treaty signatory.”
Another idea was to exhibit Poukawa’s other taonga (treasures) – such as his simple (stone weapon) – at the Waikato Museum. Already, a hei tiki (pendant) linked to Opoia pā was exhibited there.
As well as celebrating Poukawa, a revamped site and exhibits as suggested would honor the Ngāti Wairere tūpuna (ancestors) who fought at Rangiriri in 1863 during the New Zealand Wars.
“You have a war memorial in Memorial Park [in Hamilton] but there is nothing commemorating our tupuna Wairere who fought at Rangiriri,” Puke said.
He had spoken to former Deputy Mayor Gordon Chesterman about the site, whose history was documented in the District Plan and by Heritage NZ.
There was a general policy within Maoridom to protect and preserve history, Puke said.
Chesterman has arranged a public meeting for this Sunday – inviting the mayor and residents of Claudelands – to discuss the future use of the land. He says the heritage character of the suburb should be respected.