Most checkpoints around Northland enforcing Covid-19 travel restrictions have been disbanded — but iwi aren't ruling out a return if drivers go back to flouting the rules.
The Ngāti Hine-led checkpoint at Waiomio, on State Highway 1 south of Kawakawa, wound up Thursday night, as did iwi checkpoints at Kaikohe and Waitangi.
As of yesterday there was, however, still a road block at Ngataki, north of Kaitaia, and various coastal communities still had signs up and gates closed to discourage visitors.
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Ngāti Hine leader Pita Tipene did not rule out setting up the Waiomio checkpoint again but it would only be done in conjunction with police.
''We can see the [Covid-19] curve is flattening nationally and in Northland things are looking up. We think the message has been made but if we get a sense that people are slackening we will go back to the police and say we want to put checkpoints in place again.''
On the first day, when level 4 restrictions were still in force, volunteers had turned back 10 vehicles in the space of an hour, Tipene said.
Over time, however, the number of people breaking the rules decreased.
''By the end people were courteous, they knew what we were trying to achieve and they were even supportive,'' he said.
He believed opposition came from a lack of understanding that iwi were trying to protect Northland.
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''It doesn't matter if the person behind the mask is brown or white, or wearing a blue uniform or white overalls.''
Tipene said there was also a racist element of people who couldn't stand being questioned by a Māori, such as a driver who was shouting and gesticulating even before his wheels had stopped turning.
Tipene said his concerns had now shifted to Covid-19 alert breaches on the water. He was considering how iwi could work with authorities to secure the coastline.
The Waiomio checkpoint was part of the self-styled Tai Tokerau Border Control founded by Hone Harawira.
Northland MP Matt King, a staunch critic of the checkpoints, earlier turned down a challenge from Harawira to spend a shift at the Kaikohe checkpoint, but he did take up an invitation from Tipene to visit Waiomio.
King said he was well received and had no doubt the checkpoint volunteers were well-intentioned.
In recent weeks he had fielded multiple complaints from people who had felt intimidated or had not been allowed through until they accepted a brochure, despite their concerns it could carry the virus.
Since then he believed the checkpoint volunteers had upskilled and moved aside the more abrasive characters. Once police got involved the complaints had stopped.
''But I still think it's a bad precedent that civilians decide who goes through and who doesn't.''
While the checkpoints had stopped people who were breaking the Covid-19 rules, drivers engaged in legitimate travel had also been turned back. That was what had upset people, King said.
Harawira said a meeting of checkpoint co-ordinators in Kaikohe on Thursday had recommended setting up Covid-19 community patrols for the rest of alert level 3.
He would take the plan to Te Kahu o Taonui (Tai Tokerau Iwi Chairs Forum) and the police.
The aim of the patrols would be to have an impact in places people might not expect, he said.