The organisation representing New Zealand's biggest tribe is defending iwi-led Covid-19 checkpoints around Northland, saying their sole purpose is to keep the virus out of vulnerable communities.

It comes after Northland MP Matt King called on police to shut down the checkpoints, which he said were illegal and run by ''local vigilantes''.

Te Rōpu Poa, interim chief executive of Te Rūnanga a Iwi ō Ngāpuhi, said she had heard second- or third-hand reports via the media of people claiming they had been intimidated at the Kaikohe checkpoint.

However, no one had approached the rūnanga and the reports did not match observations of the checkpoint by her staff.

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Te Rūnanga a Iwi ō Ngāpuhi interim chief executive Te Rōpu Poa. Photo / Supplied
Te Rūnanga a Iwi ō Ngāpuhi interim chief executive Te Rōpu Poa. Photo / Supplied

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The checkpoints were started by former Tai Tokerau MP Hone Harawira amid reports of tourists and locals travelling around Northland despite the lockdown.

Most of the checkpoints operate under the banner of Harawira's Tai Tokerau Border Force, with support from local iwi and community groups.

The Kaikohe roadblock, which was set up just before Easter, is supported by the rūnanga, which helps with staff and protective equipment.

Poa said the checkpoints aimed to keep everyone, Māori and non-Māori, safe.

She acknowledged many Far North residents had to travel to supermarkets or workplaces, including some of the rūnanga's staff who had to pass through the checkpoints daily to work at the Covid-19 testing station or to help pack and distribute kai packs.

''Other than residents going to essential mahi or grocery shopping, there is still a handful of people who are not respecting the rules and find this kaupapa inconvenient to their holiday, weekend or travel plans. That's a shame, but we'd like to remind them of the strict nationwide regulations around level 4 lockdown and the message to stay at home,'' Poa said.

''We've seen second- and third-hand reports in the media of people going about legitimate business allegedly being intimidated at the checkpoints, but we have had no direct contact from anyone about such experiences.''

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Nor did the reports match up with accounts from the rūnanga's staff.

''We've had kaimahi [workers] help at the checkpoints since Easter and their feedback has been that the people manning the checkpoints are dealing with vehicle occupants in a genial, non-threatening and non-intimidating way. They have also observed that while occasional vehicle occupants appear to have been deliberately antagonistic at the checkpoints, there has been overwhelming public support and understanding."

The checkpoint teams had been working with, and taking advice from, Kaikohe police. Anyone who had had a negative experience was invited to email the rūnanga at complaints@ngapuhi.org.

''We will also continue to monitor interactions at the checkpoints and work with police to ensure the good processes we have in place are ongoing for the duration of the checkpoints. How long the duration is will be assessed on a day-to-day basis.''

Kaikohe checkpoint co-ordinator Jay Hepi said the roadblock would remain in place at the southern end of Broadway from 9am-5pm daily, at least until the level 4 alert was lifted at midnight on Monday.

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