Last week the Nelson City Council and Lewis Stanton issued dual apologies for a standoff that has gone on for six years. Charles Anderson looks back at the saga.
He was only meant to be here for three weeks. That turned into months, then years.
By last week, when Lewis Stanton and Mayor Rachel Reese stood in All Saints Church and spoke of mutual understanding and good faith, the story of Lewis, otherwise known as Hone Ma Heke, had dragged on for six years.
Lewis had arrived in Nelson after years living in Motueka. He set up shop on Bridge St with his cart and horse Barney. Then he started giving rides to children at Tahunanui Beach.
“In 2011, the council pushed back,” says lawyer Steven Zindel, who has represented Lewis for all those years.
“They wanted to show they were tough. Unfortunately, there was stubbornness on both sides.”
The council issued Lewis with a blanket ban, trespassing him from all of the city’s parks and reserves. Lewis went in and out of court, in and out of prison, and in the process racked up more than $100,000 worth of fines.
Judge Tony Zohrab later removed the blanket trespass, saying it contravened the Human Rights Act.
Then in 2015, Lewis decided to start living outside Farmers on Trafalgar St and along with him came a small band of like-minded rough sleepers.
Things turned ugly. Central city retailers staged a “Hone must go” counter-protest in September where Lewis punched the protest leader.
A man also poured solvent on Lewis’ face while he slept.
So last week’s event was in stark contrast to the escalating conflict. Steven Zindel was impressed.
The council apologised for its actions, including the tone of its language dating back to 2001. Lewis thanked the council for its dedication to resolve the “long running dispute”.
“It shows that anything is possible. North Korea, Trump,” Zindel said.
“This sort of happened naturally. It’s better to keep the lawyers out of it.”
After the apologies were delivered and signed, Lewis was philosophical.
“Today is a day in history for the betterment for ourselves and all mankind. It’s the first few steps in a long mile. It’s not all over yet but it is a very good step in the right direction in solving the problem.”
The council is paying for Lewis to live at Tahuna Holiday Park in a “transitional arrangement”.
Mayor Rachel Reese said the apologies were part of the Christmas spirit.
“It’s about coming together and caring for the community with tolerance and forgiveness.”
Rachel said she did not want to look back on the saga other than to acknowledge how council’s interactions had made Lewis feel.
“Now it’s a step to moving forward and making sure we have a resolution … I’m happy for the people of Nelson and for our community. Our community is a good one and the face of it needs to be one that is welcoming and tolerant.”
As for Lewis, he wasn’t sure what was next.
“I plan to stay here for the present until whatever is next on the agenda, but that’s where I am.”