Judge ducks 'brown eye' verdict

By Lindy Laird

A Maori Land Court judge presiding over complaints that volatile activist Hinewhare Harawira bared her backside to neighbours said he is thankful he doesn't have to decided whether it was a whakapohane or "a brown-eye".

In his decision about a stoush between Ms Harawira and trustees on the Te Tii Waitangi B3 Trust, Judge David Ambler also said a photo showing Ms Harawira performing the act in a Waitangi street last year was "mercifully" taken from some distance.

Whakapohane is the Maori word for the insulting gesture which Ms Harawira claims she performed as a cultural expression during the eviction of tenants from a Waitangi house. At the time Ms Harawira had been showing support for the tenants and had taken exception to jeering from neighbours who were watching the event.

But the issue Judge Ambler was presiding over was not the act of whakapohane but whether Ms Harawira's behaviour was appropriate for a trustee on the property managing trust (known as TB3), and whether allegations that she created "havoc" at a meeting of the trust were enough for him to bar her.

The decision to block Ms Harawira's appointment has been adjourned until September, after the next AGM of the trust, to which Judge Ambler has referred the matter.

A Land Court judge has to approve members of trusts overseeing Maori lands and properties.

Judge Ambler was presiding over an objection by other trustees Hapeta Rameka, Billie Taituha and Joyce Baker to Ms Harawira's appointment.

In his reserved judgment issued on July 5 he said he would "have deep reservations" about appointing Harawira as a trustee if she routinely "resorted to whakapohane or other similar gestures in response to abuse or other testing circumstances".

He pointed out that the offending behaviour had occurred after the last AGM where her nomination had been accepted.

"It would be disastrous to appoint Ms Harawira if her support has evaporated because of her post-AGM conduct," Judge Ambler said.

He dismissed the "havoc" allegations because they had not been specific.

Ms Harawira was one of four nominees for five vacancies at the trust's AGM on August 25 last year.

Tai Tokerau Maori leader Rudi Taylor said he believed she was not yet an appointed trustee.

"Maori have to take on the responsibility as role models if they want to represent their people in office," Mr Taylor said.

"At the end of the day people who play up aren't going to get in these positions."

In March Te Tii Marae officials tried to get Ms Harawira trespassed from a Waitangi Tribunal hearing she was disrupting.

- Northern Advocate

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