The origins of a swamp kauri bowl gifted to the US President are causing controversy in Te Tai Tokerau – with one environmentalist calling the present an “appalling” mistake.
Mana whenua are also frustrated they were kept out of the loop.
The Prime Minister gave the bowl to Joe Biden on her recent visit to Washington.
Her office has confirmed the wood came from businessman Nelson Parker.
But the chair of the Northland Environmental Protection Society Fiona Furrell told RNZ that was a “faux pas”.
A Ministry for Primary Industries report provided to RNZ shows Parker was investigated in 2019.
It found he likely contravened the Forests Act, exporting swamp kauri to China and calling it artwork. Products must be manufactured not just raw wood.
But the ministry decided not to prosecute because officials initially told Parker the kauri was compliant.
Furrell said the Prime Minister’s office needed to do more “investigating” when buying gifts for world-famous people, and had shown “a lack of care”.
“To us swamp kauri, of all things for a gift to America, is really not on. It’s shocking after all the work we’ve gone through to try and protect these wetlands that produce the swamp kauri.”
The society took a fight to stop the export of raw swamp kauri logs all the way to the Supreme Court in 2018, and won.
The timber is milled from trees that have been buried and preserved in peat swamps for between 800 and 60,000 years.
Extraction can damage ecosystems as well as historically and culturally important sites, although NIWA surveys suggest most swamp kauri now sits under farm paddocks.
“Any use of swamp kauri that is featured by our government, therefore puts our our wetlands at risk, because people will want more swamp kauri now,” Furrell said.
She said the swamp kauri gift was “appalling” mistake and “wasn’t moral” – and the president should reconsider his possession of the wood extracted by Parker.
“He [Biden] could make the decision himself. Perhaps it could be returned to New Zealand.”
Nelson Parker confirmed the wood came from farmland in the Kai Iwi Lakes area.
Te Roroa are mana whenua there.
In a statement, the iwi’s development group general manager Snow Tane said: “Te Roroa had no knowledge that a bowl from our rohe had been gifted to the POTUS.”