James Ihaka

James Ihaka is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

Tame Iti older, wiser - and now a vegan

After nine-month jail stint, activist says he has no animosity towards the sentencing judge

Activist Tame Iti has had his first week out of prison after getting an early release from his sentence on firearms charges stemming from the Urewera raids. Photo / Dean Purcell
Activist Tame Iti has had his first week out of prison after getting an early release from his sentence on firearms charges stemming from the Urewera raids. Photo / Dean Purcell

Tame Iti reckons he's older and mellower these days, despite a nine-month stint in jail that would probably have left many others bitter.

The Weekend Herald spoke with the affable and dapper activist at a downtown Auckland hotel, just three days after his early release from prison - in exchange for a dinner at a plush restaurant.

Iti, 60, went to jail last year over his involvement with alleged military camps in the Urewera Ranges, despite jurors being unable to reach a decision on the main charge levelled against him and his cohorts of belonging to an organised criminal group.

The 2-year sentence was seen by his supporters as unduly harsh but Iti holds no animosity towards the sentencing judge, Justice Rodney Hansen.

"A couple of days and I got over that," he says, smiling.

"I had to because I was doing 2 years in jail so I really had to reassess my thinking, mentally, spiritually, psychologically ... My thinking was I had to make this work for me and how I could be productive."

At his Parole Board hearing, his family said they had noticed a maturing of Iti, who took an active role in mentoring other inmates in te reo and tikanga at the Te Ao Marama Maori focus unit at Waikeria Prison.

The board said it did not see that he posed an undue risk to the community.

"They shouldn't because I didn't confiscate anybody's land, I didn't kill anyone, I never shot anyone and I never smacked anybody. It's all based on hearsay," said Iti.

"Look through my old record and I don't have any of that. Yes, I carry a gun on my marae - that's common knowledge - but it's something I've been doing for a long time before they even knew ... All of a sudden I am being judged on my own marae how I should conduct myself on my own marae."

During the sentencing, Justice Hansen said the camps were for training people in military exercises and in his mind a private militia was being established.

But Iti, who did not give evidence at his trial, said people who believed this were pea-brains. "Why would I want to create chaos in my own community? Why would I do that?

"They had no evidence from anybody in Ruatoki on behalf of the Crown or police saying we are scared of what Tame Iti is.

"Nobody has ever been on the stand on behalf of the Crown and police. All of it was based on their own paranoia - like they did at Parihaka and to [Maori prophet and land-rights campaigner] Rua Kenana."

He admits there were training camps held around Ruatoki but these were run in the same manner corporates hold similar activities for motivation.

Iti remains philosophical about how things will go after his lawyer Russell Fairbrother applied for leave to appeal against his convictions and sentence to the Supreme Court.

"Justice is like a game of chess ... but I know myself I am right and I know that they are wrong.

"If you look at everybody else, they got off. The only thing they held us on was for that criminal organised crime. They should have thrown the whole damn thing away."

Is this a transformed Iti?

Not really, he says, as his commitment and passion still remain the same, although he is now into vegan food.

He is also part of a neighbourhood watch group at home to "sort out the riff raff", is into his art and cooking and plans to compete in the Iron Maori later this year.

"My strategy has changed and my attitude.

"I am a little older and wiser.

"I am a kaumatua now. It's a big role, a huge responsibility,but I think the iwi still trusts my ability and they are keen for me to be part of the process and I am keen for whatever role that I will always be there."


Tame Iti will appear tomorrow on Marae Investigates on TV One.

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