Judge calls Iti's protest 'a stunt'

By Juliet zRowan, Juliet Rowan

Tame Iti says he may appeal against his conviction for firing a shotgun during a powhiri for Waitangi Tribunal officials, but has backed away from an earlier comment that he would do the same again.

Iti, 55, was yesterday found guilty of two charges of unlawful possession of a firearm and fined $600 after firing live rounds at Ruatoki last January. The judge called Iti's action "a stunt".

The incident happened during a Tuhoe re-enactment of the "scorched earth" confiscation of its territory in the 1860s, performed for tribunal officials gathering to hear land claims.

Iti twice fired into the air at a point known as "the confiscation line" and twice at a New Zealand flag at the marae, arguing his actions were lawful because they were in accordance with Tuhoe custom.

Judge Chris McGuire said Iti had proved that using firearms on ceremonial occasions was part of Tuhoe tikanga (custom). But the judge said a view within the iwi that it was acceptable for tribe members, such as Iti, who did not have firearms licences to use and discharge guns needed to change, even if they had been trained and sanctioned by Tuhoe.

"Tuhoe is not exempted from the Arms Act," he said. The judge ruled Iti had gone "too far" by using live ammunition, when most Tuhoe witnesses had said they would have expected blanks to be used.

"It [using live rounds] was not demanded by tikanga. It was designed to intimidate unnecessarily and to shock. It was a stunt. It was unlawful."

He acknowledged that other tribe members had carried and fired guns, but rejected Iti's assertion that he had been singled out.

"Mr Iti courted publicity and on that day was rewarded as the media's centrepiece, so he should not be surprised that reaction to that publicity has followed."

However, he praised Iti for his work in mental health and reducing domestic and gang violence, and thanked "distinguished" tribe members who had testified on his behalf.

Iti's lawyer, Annette Sykes, sought a discharge without conviction, saying the powhiri had been a long-awaited opportunity for Tuhoe to express their emotion over atrocities committed during confiscation.

But Crown prosecutor Larry Meredith said a previous conviction Iti had for reckless discharge of a firearm in 1997 made that course inappropriate.

Before sentencing, Iti's son, Toi Iti, told the court his father had used theatrics to convey his emotion: "Perhaps my father will take certain things into consideration in future, but we should enter into a dialogue rather than persecute him for being the frontman of a struggle."

Outside the court, Iti said he had no comment on whether he would do the same thing again, despite telling the Herald after the trial that a conviction would not stop him firing a gun again at Tuhoe ceremonial occasions.

He told reporters he would decide whether to appeal in the next couple of days.

Iti briefly put one of three flags he shot and shotgun shell casing on Trade Me, in the hope that the proceeds would help to pay his fine - $300 on each charge, plus $260 court costs - or for an appeal.

However, Trade Me withdrew the items from sale late yesterday.

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