Worried iwi have gathered to debate the best way to protect one of New Zealand’s most important heritage sites.
Iwi want to see development work at Kōwhai Pā stopped pending an official investigation.
The significant site belongs to Rangitāne, Ngāti Toarangatira and Ngāti Rārua. It is close to the Wairau Bar and is one of the first places humans settled in the country 800 years ago.
Grapegrowers in Marlborough are accused of disturbing the ancient Māori burial sites with new vines.
Work should cease, say iwi, until an investigation by New Zealand Pouhere Taonga (HNZPT) in completed.
On Saturday, supporters gathered at a hui to discuss the best way forward.
Save Kōwhai Pā event organiser Keelan Walker says the land is of great importance.
“Our wahi tapu, our urupa, our burial grounds are all out there.
“It’s about bringing people out here to introduce them to the history and significance of this area,” he says.
Much of Kōwhai Pā is owned by grapegrowers Montford Corporation.
Director Haysley MacDonald is also an elected trustee at Te Rūnanga a Rangitāne o Wairau, and director of te Pā Wines.
The company does not have permission to use parts of the land commercially without permission from HNZTP.
“If I’m found to be wrong, nothing’s damaged. If he [Hasley MacDonald] is found to be wrong he’s just destroyed our heritage,” says Keelan.
In a statement released on Friday, Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Rārua urge their relationship with the ancestral lands be recognised.
“We have also engaged with the other iwi associated with this site, and we welcome the opportunity for further dialogue,” it says.
Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Rārua says it acknowledges that investigations are ongoing.
But all activities that could be harmful need to stop now, it says.
“We urge that HNZPT to take this statement into consideration with urgency, to recognise the relationship with the ancestral lands, wāhi tapu, and other taonga, as presented by Ngati Rarua to the Waitangi Tribunal. “