(CNN)Maori groups in New Zealand are taking to the streets to protest family separations carried out by the child welfare agency and a planned development on their ancestral lands.
Maori groups are protesting in New Zealand over child removals and use of sacred land
The protests have strained relations between Maori and the Labour coalition government led by Jacinda Ardern, who has been in the remote Pacific territory of Tokelau at a time of rising tension at home.
Hundreds of protesters marched Tuesday in Auckland, New Zealand's largest city, and other cities around the country, according to Reuters.
Taking infants into state care -- known as "uplifting" -- has been making headlines in the country since mid-June when an investigation by local media outlet Newsroom showed authorities attempting to take a seven-day-old baby from its 19-year-old Maori mother while she was still in the maternity ward.
Some have raised concerns that Maori and Pacific Island babies are disproportionately affected by "uplifts" due to institutional racism. Over 15,000 people have signed an open letter online urging the government to "stop stealing Maori children."
Last year, judges ordered 281 babies to be taken into care and 71% were of Maori or Pacific Island heritage, the government said in a statement.
In New Zealand's most recent census in 2013, 14.9% of the then population of 4.2 million people identified as Maori, while 7.4% identified as of Pacific Island heritage.
Judge Andrew Becroft, the New Zealand Children's Commissioner, announced his office's own inquiry on June 16, citing long-running concerns.
"Consequently we have decided to exercise our specific statutory power under the Children's Commissioner Act to monitor and assess the policies of Oranga Tamariki," tweeted Becroft.
And on June 19, New Zealand's Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier announced a wide-ranging, independent investigation into the Ministry for Children's uplifting process.
The controversy is reminiscent of the "stolen generation" of Aboriginal children in Australia.