Weekly column by Kāpiti mayor K. Gurunathan.

It was like a memory held at the core of a sweet onion. My trip last week to Raglan peeled through 44 layers, each going back a year to 1976.

Back then, I had arrived with the Wellington chapter of the Māori activist group Ngā Tamatoa at Raglan's Poihakena Marae. The light early evening rain made the perfect ambience for my first marae experience.

As our group of about 15 members of Tamatoa approached, the ululating call of the woman from the marae seemed to cast a spell; a welcome to open the meeting of the new arrivals and the hosts.

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Local firebrand activist Eva Rickard, a member of the Tainui Awhiro hapu, had organised the hui and called for support. As the ensuing kōrero continued through the night the story of what had happened to the local Māori unfolded. I got a first-hand understanding of how colonial occupation, land confiscation and cultural alienation worked. And how the urban based Māori protesters were still linked to their ancestral lands.

K. Gurunathan at Poihakena Marae.
K. Gurunathan at Poihakena Marae.

In 1941, the Crown had taken 88ha of the hapū's ancestral land for an emergency military airbase. The land, known as Te Kopua, was the hapū's papakāinga and included an ancestral urupā, or burial ground.

The community were moved out and their meeting house destroyed. As a young lass Eva, real name Tuaiwa, witnessed the impact of this alienation on her people.

After the war, the Crown did not return the land but vested it in the Raglan County Council, which leased it to the Raglan Golf Club. In the early 70s, Tuaiwa started petitioning the Crown for the return of the land with little success.

On that day in 1976, Tuaiwa had organised the fencing-off of the urupā section of the land for a karakia ceremony. It was effectively a land occupation timed for the same day as the club's annual golf tournament.

That morning, we joined the local Māori as the protesters circled the urupā, witnessed by a strong presence of police. It was an eye opening and insightful experience.

For a second-year university student from Malaysia, the experience was a great introduction into a deep national disconnect that still continues today.

Tuaiwa went on to become a shining star in the politics of the Māori renaissance, including her strong advocacy for the emancipation of Māori women from traditional cultural shackles.

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Our paths crossed one more time when we met in the middle of the Hamilton Rugby Park in 1981. We were amongst the small group who had invaded the field to help stop the Springbok game against Waikato.

Last week, as I stood outside Poihakena Marae, I was happy that my journey in understanding my own colonial alienation was helped by that 1976 experience 44 years ago. To know that, in 1991, the Crown finally returned the land back to Tainui Awhiro.

Tuaiwa died in 1997. A light rain was also falling on day of my visit as the marae was embracing a tangi. As I explained the reason for my visit I was invited to join the people being called on to the marae. I felt my memories would be an intrusion into the sacredness of their own memories of the person they had come to farewell.

I was happy that, as I had peeled back my onion layers, the tangi was a good symbolic point to take leave.

Talking of tangi reminded me of the family of five who absconded from their mandatory isolation at Hamilton's Distinction Hotel. They had flown in for a tangi from Brisbane after the children's father had had a stroke and died.

At least one of the escapees had knocked on the doors of a nearby retirement village before all were apprehended by police. I mention this because Claire and I had, in passing through Hamilton, stopped not far from the place.

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This is the dilemma we face. It's impossible to impose a 100 per cent lockdown of our borders. Somewhere, sometime, there could be a potential gap and it could be a positive carrier and trigger a second wave.

Given the global resurgence of Covid-19 I'm glad the Government's strategy has proven to be the right one despite the noise of those clamouring for an Australian-style earlier relaxation.