Far North iwi are turning away their own whānau trying to return to the region during the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown.
The Tai Tokerau Border Control group has stepped up its efforts to stop the spread of coronavirus by barring tourists and other non-residents from coming into the area.
There are now nine checkpoints across the Far North, including at Whangaroa, Aupouri, Pawarenga and Panguru, Opononi, Waitiki, Kohukohu, Rawene and South Hokianga.
Around 10 carloads of tourists have recently been turned away at other roadblocks in place at Kawakawa, Kaitaia and at the bottom of Waiomio Hill.
Each checkpoint has eight to 10 crew members.
Border control leader Hone Harawira, a former Tai Tokerau MP, says the big issue now is whānau from the north trying to return from Auckland and treating the lockdown like a four-week holiday.
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"Well, it isn't. The checkpoints are there to protect our old people. Kaumātua, kuia and whānau living at home are our highest priority.
"We have limited health and screening resources in the north to care for them as it is. The message to whānau is please don't come home. Even if you're from here you don't live here."
Harawira announced plans to set up ''medical checkpoints'' on main routes into the Far North on March 22, one day before the Government announced plans to raise its Covid-19 alert to level 3, followed by level 4.
He said the roadblocks were necessary as he did not believe the Government would treat Tai Tokerau as a priority area.
Harawira said the volunteers were provided with training, two lots of protective gear per crew and lots of hand sanitiser.
They also had leaflets with information on Tai Tokerau Border Control, directions for tourists, and phone numbers that people could ring for help.
If someone in the crew had a medical background, they would undertake temperature checks on people, otherwise "they are managing the flow of locals, providing them with information, and letting them know what iwi are trying to do".
Essential workers, food and medical supplies and emergency services are being waved through the checkpoints.
Only those engaging directly with the public were wearing protective gear such as body suits, masks and gloves, he said.
Harawira wasn't concerned the volunteers could add to the problem by coming into contact with others.
When they returned home to their own families, they were taking safety measures like washing all their clothes, he said.
"If the boys had stayed at home there'd be others floating through the territory that shouldn't be here," Harawira said.
"We've been getting resounding support from those who we've stopped. Most people know we don't have enough police to enforce this sort of thing. So, we make sure our people are handling this in a positive way ... knowing that someone is doing something to protect the community."
The roadblocks have the support of Kaitaia GP Lance O'Sullivan who highlighted Māori concerns of a repeat of 1918 which saw Māori communities decimated by the Spanish flu pandemic.
Response to the checkpoints on social media has been mixed. While many are supportive, others say iwi are taking the law into their own hands and should stay home and obey the lockdown.
Harawira said individual groups were informing police of what they're doing, and they were "really positive about it".
Deputy Police Commissioner Wally Haumaha said the police role was supporting the cultural response to Covid-19.
Police were working with iwi "who are taking the lead to ensure rural communities that don't have immediate access to support services are well protected", he said.
"These are unprecedented times and we are working with communities across the country to restrict the spread of this virus.
"We are all coming to this kaupapa from the same place – out of a need to protect the most vulnerable in the community."
On Tuesday, the South Hokianga checkpoint stopped two young men from Auckland's North Shore "swanning around" with plans to visit the Aupouri Peninsula.
Their car registration details were passed on to police.
In another case the Whangaroa crew encountered tourists who told them "all the other camps are closed so we're looking for one round here".
"When they were told that Whangaroa was closed, they said 'We'll head north until we can find one'. Clearly the message isn't getting through," Harawira said. "New Zealanders ought to know better."
Harawira couldn't say how long the checkpoints would be in place.
"Until such time as tourists are out of the territory. Our job is to protect the border. Our iwi is responsible for looking after our people and they're doing a wonderful job."
Police Minister Stuart Nash was contacted for comment but did not respond before deadline.