Pania Newton’s path through life has led her to find her purpose, her kaupapa: protecting Ihumātao. Home to the earliest inhabitants of New Zealand, Ihumātao is a landscape of cultural, historical, and environmental significance. Despite this, the Crown has failed to recognise its heritage values for New Zealand, allowing it to be sold for a proposed housing development. Realising that the plan meant 480 high-cost houses on the confiscated land, Pania and her cousins created the SOUL Campaign to resist the development. Later with family members and other supporters, she has occupied the land to protect it. Looking deeply into why Ihumātao has not been recognised as heritage worthy of protection in New Zealand, SOUL has uncovered the extent of the bias toward protecting colonial built heritage over sites of indigenous significance - an issue that is seen across the world. Here Pania tells the story of the fight to #ProtectIhumatao. From a childhood of struggle Pania never focused on the negative, but was fortunate to stay true to her Maoritanga. At nine years old she wrote in a time capsule that she wanted to be a lawyer to make a difference. After working hard to achieve that, she has temporarily left her law career to fulfill her purpose and responsibility to the environment for future generations.
She now dedicates her time to huis and the occupation of Ihumatao land. Everything she does is for others; her nieces and nephews, her whanau, and future generations, so the sacrifices are without regret. As a frontline protector of Ihumatao she has had to step out of her comfort zone and face challenges, all in the name of saving a unique and sacred land, contributing to a better Aotearoa for all.