Guerillas in the mist

By Catherine Masters, Patrick Gower

In Ruatoki this week a hui was held at a marae with a plaque out front which perhaps sums up 150 years of Tuhoe relations with white authority.

There's nothing bad written on the plaque. In fact, it's the opposite, and that may be a surprise given the level of anger in this tight-knit community.

The plaque commemorates one of the last great paramount chiefs, Takarua Tamarau, who died in 1958 aged 86. It reads: "Tamarau was a protector and guide to his Maori people and a loyal supporter of the British flag."

The memorial at little Otenuku Marae, the last of the many marae which dot Ruatoki Valley Rd was erected by the Commonwealth Covenant Church "in high personal esteem and as a token of arohanui between the Maori and Pakeha peoples".

But in one fell swoop on Monday the police - say Tuhoe people - badly wounded those relationships.

At the hui, Maori police liaison officers, who locals say were left out of the loop about the massive police operation, were having to explain why armed police descended on this tiny town of only a few hundred people in such force. Locals believe they were treating an entire community as criminals in their hunt for a few.

People say they saw a sniper leaning out of a circling helicopter as heavily armed police blocked off the only two roads in, scaring children and making young and old stand in front of their vehicles holding a number in front of them so criminal-style mugshots could be taken.

At the marae, media gathered for the hui and it appeared some Maori press were allowed on to the grounds but not Pakeha.

When people spilled out of the marae after emotional talks, media invaded the grounds. Most Tuhoe ignored the protocol gaffe but one woman was yelling "you Pakeha ones, get out of the gate".

She may have seemed aggressive but she was right, said a Maori member of the media. No one, Maori or Pakeha, should have gone on to the marae uninvited.

Another blunder by Pakeha. And people here say there were some big blunders made by police.

When they descended, one of the main roadblocks was set up at what is known as the confiscation line.

This is where, in the 1860s, Tuhoe were left on one side and all the land on the other was taken and given to settlers.

This followed the scorched earth policy where British soldiers invaded Tuhoe territory in the bitter cold of winter, burning crops, pillaging, murdering and leaving the people to starve.

The historic injustice has not healed. Only two years ago, Tuhoe painted bodies on the ground at the confiscation line in a re-enactment for Waitangi Tribunal members who came to town to hear their treaty claims, among them a constitutional claim to govern themselves according to their own customs.

Tuhoe have always been steadfast: they say they never signed the Treaty of Waitangi and they never gave up their sovereignty.

The day after the hui Tamati Kruger's fish and chips are getting cold as he talks about the past and how the police action this week has affected the people, once again.

Kruger is a kaumatua, historian and teacher, and is highly respected. He has spent the day at a district health board meeting on which he is a Crown appointee. He now sits in a bright orange T-shirt at the Te Kohati A Tuhoe office, tired from the past days' events, yet talking eloquently about the long and troubled history between Tuhoe and the Crown.

The tyranny continues today, he says.

He thinks placing the blockade at the confiscation line was not intentional. But it is significant.

"It's like history in cycles, isn't it? Yeah, it's history repeating. That probably goes over the top of the head of the police commissioner. One party remembers, one party forgets."

Tuhoe have been saddened that the police commissioner did not use the police Maori liaison staff.

At the hui, says Kruger, the liaison officers kept their eyes down when a speaker swore at them for being slaves of the white man.

"The speaker said 'you have no mana at all, don't you see that ?' and they just sat there. We could all feel their embarrassment and disappointment."

In another piece of history repeating itself, the liaison officers who fronted at the hui were not Tuhoe but from tribes whose ancestors were Crown sympathisers and helped lead the soldiers into Tuhoe land.

The symbolism is important. Children are raised with strong oral traditions about the injustices of the past and on Monday Tuhoe believe they saw it for themselves in 2007.

For some reason, there is an automatic heavy-handedness used by the Crown when it deals with Tuhoe, says Kruger.

He thinks this is because Tuhoe have always been quarrelsome, whether about national or local politics or the fact people refuse to register their dogs on their own land.

"I guess if you draw those things together it paints a picture of contempt and disrespect for the Crown and its authority; we question it all the time, we mock it and we jeer at it because we don't believe that they have authority in our rohe [iwi territory]."

There will be long-term impacts from this latest conflict, he says.

The Crown's apparent attitude - that Tuhoe are belligerent and stubborn people who need to be dragged into the 21st century - will be entrenched.

But also entrenched will be Tuhoe people's pride and determination to be more Tuhoe "in every way possible".

Ruatoki is not far from Whakatane but as you pass through neighbouring Taneatua where the one-man police station is located, you enter a different world.

The houses are faded and many have horses grazing in the back yard. Dogs wander around without collars or tags.

Some of the faces you see are fully tattooed. Not all are welcoming but people are mostly friendly when approached.

They are like anyone else, they say. They might live more simply but they do their chores, tend their horses and sometimes ride them into the hills to go hunting. The grass is green and lush and across the river where the valley flattens out a road, seemingly going nowhere, leads to tiny enclaves of homes, marae and schools and well-tended fields of asparagus.

Towering around Ruatoki are the Ureweras, covered in mist, the mystical mountain range full of history and importance to Tuhoe.

And it is the Ureweras that are said to link all the people arrested around the country this week with some kind of connection to a military or possibly terrorist organisation.

From Tuhoe, police have arrested one of their most often arrested activists, Tame Iti, who is still in custody.

There are key questions people out here do not understand. One is why their entire community was made to feel like criminals whereas other raids - in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch - were targeted at individual houses.

The police knew who they were after in Ruatoki so why didn't they just target individuals? Many said all they needed to do if they wanted Iti was to ask him to call into the police station. Iti's personality is such that he would have. Instead, he and others were raided in the early hours while the community was asleep.

People can't comment about the charges Iti faces but they point out it's no secret in these parts, where everyone has rifles for hunting, that he has a semi-automatic weapon. He brings it out at tangis in front of hundreds of people, including an out-of-town police officer at the last one.

As to molotov cocktails, most people say they have no idea about that. But there is no petrol station in either Ruatoki or Taneatua and people store petrol in all kinds of containers.

Despite the sense of unease, life in the two communities seems to have returned to normal after the raids, except for the presence of numerous police cars.

As the Taneatua Bowling Club is hosting an interclub tournament, one street away young men wearing red hang around outside a house. One wears a hat, leather waistcoat and checked pants. Another has a red T-shirt twisted around his head. The Mongrel Mob rules in Ruatoki and Taneatua, and the men are friendly.

They're laughing their heads off at the thought of hunters from Auckland encountering a group of armed men in military camouflage in the Ureweras and getting so scared they told the police.

"That's where they train our young fellas to use the taiaha up there. Aucklanders, they come from the city and assume ... "

Of course people have guns at taiaha training - "If you run into a big pig you're gonna need a gun."

As for talk of military camps, "Those are hunting camps. We were all laughing at that. There's camps all the way up, they've been there for years, way before our dads and our koro."

The Ureweras are their freezer, they say.

"If you can't afford to go to Pak'N Save, you go up there."

The taiaha training could look scary, for sure. The young man in the waistcoat described a course he went on: "You get up at six in the morning and you run naked through the river 'cause it numbs your body and then you get up on to the hill and that's when they start whacking you with the sticks.

"You know, it just toughens you up. If you get whacked there you don't flinch, it's just whack, whack, whack."

Iti takes courses like this, they say. He knows every Maori weapon and teaches how to use them. Yes, that could be a bit freaky for a hunter from Auckland to see, but "you're lucky they weren't running around with no pants on".

There are no terrorist or military camps up there, the boys say. Ruatoki and Taneatua are small inter-related places and if something like that was going on, people would have known. If there was a blast, it was probably someone's gas cooker exploding, they laugh.

They reckon that even the local police officer, who is "a good pig" knew nothing about any of this and he's from these parts.

At the pub in Taneatua there is only one drinker. He's 69 and lives in Ruatoki. He says police did some door-to-door visiting of houses, not to ask questions but to explain their actions. He thinks the visit was by way of an apology, for which he's glad.

He did not think Maori-Pakeha relations would be badly affected - because they've always been bad.

He talks of the importance of the Ureweras and how Tuhoe tradition has always been for young people to go up there to learn about their background, their history, and their connection to various parts of the land and to where the ancestors lived.

Pakeha may not understand, he says, but this is Tuhoe custom.

The man at the pub is calm, almost bemused, but the anger levels vary. At the dairy across from the police station, a big Maori man with a tattooed face pulls up and yells at police "We're alright, there's no **** al Qaeda here, you idiots, go home."

As he drives off toward Ruatoki some laughing little boys spot the back window of his car is smashed out and crack up.

"Look at his window, he's got Maori air conditioning," one says and they all convulse with laughter.

Just little kids laughing. But some children caught up in the operation weren't laughing on Monday. They were frightened at the sight of men dressed head to toe in black like ninjas, waving weapons around.

For the woman who kicked off yesterday's march by kohanga reo and school children to the Whakatane Police Station, it isn't funny.

Mere Nuku, licensee of Tawhaki Kohanga Reo in Ruatoki, had been driving to work in Whakatane on Monday and was ordered out of her car. She thinks she was the third to leave town that morning because she was made to stand in front of her car holding a white card with the number three on it.

She organised the march yesterday because children had been frightened and no one knew the long-term effects of what they had seen that day.

Kohanga reo teaches children to go to the police when they need to. Now, she says, children are scared of the police.

It was a peaceful morning in the valley on Monday, she says. It was the police who brought the violence in.

As we speak, tears suddenly form in Nuku's eyes. "You can only say: when is it going to stop?"

History repeats for Tuhoe

By Patrick Gower

In the remote Waimana Valley, the descendants of Maori prophet Rua Kenana need no reminder of the division a police raid can have on the Tuhoe people.

It is 91 years since the unarmed Rua was arrested at Maungapohatu by an armed force of 70 constables who killed two Maori in a subsequent gunfight, the worst clash between police and a Maori community that century.

The Herald visited Rua's grave this week and found his relatives and present-day followers angry at the parallels between his treatment and that received by their tribespeople on Monday in the neighbouring Ruatoki valley.

Their collective message: 91 years is not enough time to forget, let alone be scarred again.

Rua's great-grandaughter Tangi Munn said the Government needed to think about whether the latest raids had solved problems or caused them.

The similarities with the fatal raid on Rua were "overwhelming".

"Seventy police went in to get my koro back then, and 70 police went in to Ruatoki," she said. "It solved nothing then, and from what I am hearing from our people, it will solve nothing now."

Rua believed himself to be the successor to warrior and religious leader Te Kooti and gained a popular following after setting himself up as a New Testament-style prophet at the turn of the century.

He wanted the return of Maori land to Maori and to remove the Tuhoe people from Pakeha influence. He clashed with the prime minister of the time and became a political embarrassment - leading to a crackdown on him that included trumped-up charges.

This culminated in the 1916 shootings at at Maungapohatu, which began after a shot was fired as he was arrested - initially blamed on Maori, although historical argument now says it was the police themselves.

"The police were found wrong then, but they never admitted it," Munn said. "What scares me is that they were different times. We are in the 21st century now and as a country we should be beyond all this."

Munn did not believe that the "hocus-pocus up in the bush" police were describing was true. Camps and bushcraft were Tuhoe tradition, and New Zealanders should not be concerned. If some "silly buggers" had taken it too far, it was unfair an entire community had to be targeted for the actions of a few.

Munn said though the campaign against Rua had targeted him directly, "these police raids are hitting and hurting all of Tuhoe, and all Maori".

Similar feeling were expressed throughout the 20km valley which has a blockade at the bottom to stop American forestry company Rayonier coming in.

A man drew a long screwdriver in a threatening manner when the Weekend Herald approached.

Signs declare you are entering the "Tuhoe Nation" and visitors are allowed only as a "courtesy".

The council is refused access here in relation to the dispute and many residents refuse to pay rates let alone register their dogs or get firearms licenses.

The upper reaches of the valley has a 10-student Maori language school, four maraes and 40 homes.

There is little to mark Rua's grave, just a concrete tomb behind his final home at Matahi.

Munn works as a Maori spiritual healer and has set up the Te Wairua Ote Ora Trust in Waimana. She is a descendant of Rua by his first wife Pinepine, with whom he had 17 children. He had 10 wives in total.

Munn said Rua had predicted the complexities of modern life Maori would come to face, and advised his followers not lose touch with their Maoritanga. She believed Rua would be disconcerted by the way many Maori lived their lives today away from their land, family and traditions.

He had always believed that Maori and Pakeha could live harmoniously side-by-side, but that the colonists should not act as if Maori were there to be "tamed".

Munn said Rua would be worried about the events of this week, but would have a simple message for his people. "He would be saying: "no matter how things are, love one another and love your enemies. Find strength in yourselves."

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