Towards the end of their 2008-2011 term, the National-led Government, evidently without any coherent economic development strategy, chose mineral extraction as their ‘silver bullet’. They opted for opening up the regions of Aotearoa to a new burst of hard-rock mining alongside on-shore and off-shore oil exploration. The first region being opened up, using an aeromagnetic survey of underground resources, was the bulk of Northland. Minewatch Northland was formed in response to this threat.
The resistance to mining took the shape of marches at Waitangi, public meetings in Whangarei and Whakapara with local and foreign allies presenting NZ and international evidence to raise communities’ level of awareness about the effect of the dirty industry of hard rock mining – by now described accurately as ‘toxic mining ‘ – and its specific risks at Puhipuhi, and wide media coverage of the same issues.
On November 3, 2015, soon after Evolution Mining Ltd bought the central Exploration Permit at Puhipuhi from de Greys, MineWatch ran a well-attended meeting on ‘Tactics of Mining Companies’ at Whakapara. Tactics alluded to – based on evidence in Coromandel, Australia and beyond – included the classic divide and rule tactic, the distribution of money, sponsorship of local communities, and compromising employment of local people. As it turned out, all of those tactics were tactics later used by Evolution.
The November meeting and a subsequent public meeting in April 2016 authorised the establishment of the Action Coordination Group (ACG), to be convened by Ngati Hau Anti-Mining Group and MineWatch Northland – later expanded to include Ngati Hau Kaumatua Kuia and Ngati Hau Resource Management Unit. The agreement was that direct action to discourage Evolution from exploration and mining activities at Puhipuhi – and to make it clear that the large majority of tangata whenua and communities were strongly opposed to Evolution being here.
While central government may have wanted Evolution Mining here, they had no ‘social licence’ to be operating in this area.
While ACG’s public coverage of the risks continued over the next period until mid 2016, most activist planning was behind the scenes.. until, undercover of darkness and with police escort, an already nervous Evolution Mining Ltd moved their contractor Alton Drilling’s rig and equipment on to the mountain. This lack of transparency – cloaked with spin doctors’ lies about tangata whenua and community support, and fronted by a clever website designed to misrepresent the truth to investors – characterised Evolution’s operations. Protective security was essential to their drilling operations, as Evolution knew the high level of community opposition.
The Action Coordination Group had good intelligence gathering processes right from the start, even down to where they would place their core drilling samples – they didn’t need to engage with this intruder in order to find out their plans. Within days of the drilling rig arriving overnight, and before the drillers were able to start, a well-attended march went up the mountain to address the mining company and demand their removal of the rig. The direct action stage had begun –
Regular ACG planning meetings continued through the year. Some of their actions were covered on the main TV evening news – Maori TV’s ‘Te Kaea’ news, TV One, TV 3. All received coverage on radio and print media through the country, and ACG’s spokespersons all had long interviews informing the wider public about the level of resistance to Evolution, whose respondents usually dodged the core issues.
Action took the shape of quiet raids on to the drilling areas. A pre-dawn road blockade stopping drilling crew and security from taking the direct route to their worksite.
A peak hour picket of Evolution’s disguised HQ in central Whangarei.
Ongoing low level harassment of drilling crew and Evolution engineers by local whanau. A major Hikoi (march), called by kaumatua and kuia (elders) of Ngati Hau and ACG, and supported by close to 200 people from all around, broke through security and occupied the drill on 11 September, 2016.
And – after weeks of planning – 40 Ngati Hau elders and supporters dramatically occupied Citibank offices in central Auckland; Citibank is the closest subsidiary of Evolution Mining Ltd’s main investor (this action connected the Puhipuhi activists with Standing Rock Sioux in North Dakota, where the oil pipeline’s main investor is also Citigroup).
Ngati Hau sends message to bank – stop investing in mining at puhipuhi Te Karere TVNZ News
These and other actions had a direct effect on Evolution’s plans. Though they would not admit the truth, their gradual withdrawal from Puhipuhi that began in early December and continued until 16 June 2017 was evidently – at least in large part – the result of the consistent longterm resistance by local people to their operations at Puhipuhi, and a result of the well-argued evidence presented to the public by ACG and other opponents like Puhipuhi Mining Action Group.
It seems that Evolution Mining Ltd want to sell their exploration permit to another company. They have lost their taste for working amongst this level of opposition – as well as recognised the real difficulty of operating in the wettest part of Northland where their experience was in the drylands of Australia. They continue to lack any transparency about their intentions, and cannot admit publicly to the level of local resistance to their plans – for fear of scaring off any potential new buyer.
The message of the Action Coordination Group and others is still to the fore…. Whatever Evolution Minings intentions or any other exploration / mining companies … they will face even stronger resistance in the future. “We are ready. Don’t think any of you will be welcome here. Not now, not ever.”
Puhipuhi anti-mining action heats up. Things got loud when local hapu and other community members took their protest against Evolution Mining’s gold drilling at Puhipuhi to the front line. By: Lindy Laird
Mining opponents celebrate a victory….
‘Evolution’s withdrawal has been claimed as a major success for Ngati Hau and community organisations that have opposed moves towards gold mining at Puhipuhi for three years, and since 2012 have challenged the government’s ‘opening up of Northland’ for mining.’