They're known as the Mighty Mongrel Mob. But some leaders in the Bay of Plenty fear meth could crush their chapter. Some members admit they helped start the havoc while others are now seeing the devastating consequences. Samantha Olley and Alan Gibson are given rare access to a high-stakes gathering where senior gang members issue a challenge: How can they rid the gang of P and save the next generation?
The president is pissed off.
His words are reddening the cheeks of the chapter members around him - cheeks pigmented dark green and black by home-job tattoos.
"I pass you a patch, not a pipe," he growls at them. "Why can't we make our men better?"
The man speaking is Barney Hunuhunu, who has led the Mighty Mongrel Mob Ōpōtiki chapter since 2008.
His muscles swell beneath his black-and-white league shirt and board shorts and folded-down Red Band gumboots.
He says he used to leave members alone when it came to drugs. But that was before P.
Hunuhunu knows he could take their patches away for using it, but suspects they would just join another chapter.
"I love them. I don't want to lose them," he says.
Meth is tormenting his whānau, his chapter and his Eastern Bay of Plenty community. His son, Sonny-Joe Kaiwhakawa, also a member of the gang, has used meth for years.
But Barney Hunuhunu is not the only one worried about the drug's impact in the area.
Police say they are concerned about methamphetamine use in Eastern Bay of Plenty - particularly Ōpōtiki - and the resulting crimes, social harm and deprivation in vulnerable communities.
This week it was reported 900mg of methamphetamine was used daily per 1000 people in the Bay of Plenty region, between May and July this year, according to wastewater testing.
Nationally, police estimate the drug costs the country more than $1 billion a year in social harm.
Hunuhunu and other founding Mongrel Mob Ōpōtiki members made a decision to tackle the crisis amid concerns addicted members were "slipping away" because of P.
They contacted Billy Macfarlane, a man who manufactured meth and bankrolled one of New Zealand's biggest drug rings in the 2000s, before using te ao Māori models to stop offending and drug use.
Macfarlane suggested the members and their whānau hold a wānanga and agreed to attend with a dozen men he'd been mentoring. They invited us to attend as well so we could document the problem they are facing - and how they are trying to fix it.
Hunuhunu expected 80 "brothers" to help set up for the first hui at Ōmarumutu marae on a Friday morning just over a fortnight ago, but barely 25 have shown up. It doesn't appear any more are turning up - he can't hear any trucks grumbling up the rise from State Highway 35.
It's a spectacular spot. The marae sits on the edge of a plateau, 500m inland from the beach.
If you look out the wharekai to the west, Whale Island marks the edge of Whakatāne, straight ahead is White Island with its permanent cloudy veil.
To the east, the coastline curves towards the cape, with villages dotted along the bays every 15km or so.
Bony horses graze the surrounding paddocks, and sheep in need of shearing skitter through gaps in the wire fences.
Hunuhunu's kōrero echoes over empty chairs and tables and out the back to where his wife Emma is leading lunch prep - peeling boiled eggs, buttering bread, slicing fruit.
They have been together since they were 13. He's now 52 and she's 53.
Emma realised a long time ago she'd have "an easier life" if she supported Barney and the gang.
"But don't get me wrong I certainly put my point of view in there ... like Barney, no longer will he accept a person coming in unless his wife knows about it, and unless she agrees."
She is an early childhood educator and when she sees how her Sonny-Joe's meth use affects her mokopuna, it breaks her.
"I want to see all our babies leading the future, not standing in the dole line. I wanna see them go reach for their oyster and go live. Don't look at their daddy's patch."
She says meth has thrown a veil of darkness over Ōpōtiki.
"It's getting black."
But Sonny-Joe doesn't see any problems with his use of the drug.
At 3am the next day, members wake Barney Hunuhunu after discovering his son's mat empty on the wharenui floor.
They don't know where he went and they are still none the wiser when he returns later in the day.
Emma wouldn't have let her son join the gang if she'd known what P would do to him, but she believes strongly he can kick the drug: "I know his pou, who he really is."
But Sonny-Joe isn't ready to stop.
He's concerned the drug is eating away at his physique, but he shrugs it off: "I'm still doing everything that a father's supposed to do."
Sonny-Joe says he first smoked the drug 15 years ago and has been using at least once a week for the past two to three years.
"That's a long time when you think about ... [It was] just crystal meth I think. I didn't even know what it was, I just got asked if I wanted to have a try."
He says nowadays "it's not just in the gangs, it's everywhere".
Fellow mob member Steve Tutaki-Warren is also a father but stopped using before his baby son was born.
He bottle-feeds his son on the veranda while fellow members arrange chairs and tables.
Tutaki-Warren admits he was "one of those people that poisoned this town".
"It was out of not being rude, I suppose. The brothers would pull up, [with a] big bag of P, and I'd just indulge with them."
He has come to the wānanga to help fix what he "sort of started".
The Ōpōtiki district has a population of just 9000 and has two Mongrel Mob chapters.
Tutaki-Warren moved from the Ōpōtiki chapter to the Barbarians a few years ago.
Others, such as Dion Waikato, have been in the Ōpōtiki chapter since it started in the early 1980s.
Waikato spent his first decade in the gang behind bars "cause that was the culture then, to be as bad as you could be".
But it is a different kind of separation trying him at the moment - chapter members who use P and those, like him, who don't.
"It could ruin us. The last 36 years is just going to go down the drain ... They're starting to have different ehu - facial expressions - about themselves,'' he tells me.
"They're starting to be unreliable, they're not truthful. You know when they're not telling the truth. We're supposed to be bros."
The Ōpōtiki chapter has already lost two members to suicide, and meth use makes it harder to reach others at risk, he says.
"They say 'Bro, I'm maintaining. I sleep and I eat.' But they might sleep every three or four days and they might eat every five or six days."
Bruce Black is a fellow 1984 Mighty Mongrel Mob Ōpōtiki original.
Short, white stubble now shoots out from the three Ms inked on his chin.
"Nothing else to do in prison [than tattoos]," he says, with a smirk, referring to the tattoo.
Black thinks it's possible to have a methamphetamine-free chapter "but it would be a hard road".
"Like any other drug, you get some smokers who make P look bad and other smokers, you wouldn't even know they're smoking it."
A van pulls up full of men wearing what are known as "Rolexes" on their ankles - electronically monitored bracelets.
They've come from Rotorua with their (Rolex-free) mentor, a slightly older man in a grey coat.
The kids disperse from their makeshift rugby game, the lawnmower lurches to a halt under the pōhutukawa, the kaumātua prepare for the karanga and the rest of the women and men form two lines at the gate.
Mihi whakatau, waiata, hongi and kai ensue.
Then Billy Macfarlane launches into the first hui.
He asks the members if they would take a bullet for their president.
Their hands go up, their three middle fingers clench to make their gang sign, "the mighty sieg".
"Time to take that bullet bros. Stop the meth ... Step up and accept your responsibilities as part of this crew," he tells them.
Macfarlane believes meth use is "a manifestation of a problem bigger than it".
"Sometimes these people have been mentally abused, sexually or physically abused, sometimes they've got learning difficulties, and things like gambling, violence, self-harm, and drug use are just coping mechanisms."
The members don't know it yet, but he plans to keep visiting them every few weeks.
"They are going to face heaps of problems during this, so they need to learn how to manage those problems," he tells me.
Before Macfarlane talks tikanga, the men hear from Rotorua addictions counsellor and former P cook Kevin Hollingsworth the next morning.
A few more utes and motorbikes arrive, forming a crowd of about 70, mostly dressed in red and black.
Hollingsworth is seeing children as young as 14 "on the puffs" and more and more Kiwis imprisoned for methamphetamine-related offending.
"If we can come together as a whānau, iwi, and hapū, to support our whānau before they go into that meat cleaver, then we are doing something," he says.
He used "the four Ds" up to 40 times a day to kill P cravings.
Hollingsworth jots down, "Distract, delay, deep breath, drink water" on the crammed whiteboard.
"The thought would enter my mind that I'd want to use methamphetamine, I'd distract myself by doing something that I loved doing before I even touched that powder ...
"So that was playing sports, walking the dog, whatever it may be. I'd distract myself, I'd delay it, have a deep breath and a drink of water.
"It takes a long time but it can work," he reiterates.
Sonny-Joe slouches in a wooden chair in the corner for some of the kōrero, but he and a dozen others leave before the afternoon session starts in the tipuna whare.
They won't be coming back, but Barney Hunuhunu has a word to those remaining.
"Some of you guys just roll in here, have a kai, then bugger off. Hang in there, bros. We are doing it for you fellas ... So don't go anywhere, bros."
Macfarlane kneels on the floor bringing himself to the level of the group seated on long benches circled around him.
He is chanting, summoning parts of te ao Māori, and begins to teach the verse to the chapter and whānau.
"Manahua te tapu o matua te kore. Manahua te tapu o matua te pō ...
"Recognise your true potential and grow yourself ..."
Within half an hour each person recites the karakia back to him, one by one.
At first, the room is tense and then things soften up, members prompt each other when someone falters on a phrase.
"As soon as you open your mouth, and you talk to it, you are letting me know, you are letting all your brothers know, 'I'm on the kaupapa bro'," Macfarlane explains.
The learning continues for hours and the members don't dwindle.
Macfarlane covers Māori models of identity, roles, and responsibilities in communities and whānau, the importance of women's mana, hauora, psychology, and goal setting - "because most of them haven't got a clue about that sort of stuff".
"But there's lots of beauty inside of them too ... they're just living their lives as they know it eh".
They look at scenarios - role play - and members explain their thinking before Macfarlane tries to correct it.
It's a crash course, but Macfarlane says "you've got to start doing something about the problem otherwise you just become a part of it".
The kids are nodding off next door and morepork are calling outside when the adults do a round of reflective kōrero.
They aren't their usual staunch selves, they are soft.
And they let out tears.
Not just about what they've learned, but what they've been living with too - a lot of trauma, a lot since childhood.
Dion Waikato is stunned.
"I didn't know where it came from, they said things they wouldn't have told anybody. They spoke about what they needed to."
Four chronic users commit to stopping and a rāhui is initiated - no ifs, buts, maybes.
It is modest progress for Barney Hunuhunu's patch: the chapter and its namesake.
But not his son.
Sonny-Joe is absent.
The visitor's van will soon fill up with thick-set men, their overnight bags and their sleeping bags stuffed in sacks, and the guitar.
In a few weeks, it will return.
There is mahi to do in the meantime.
The president is patient.
What is methamphetamine?
Methamphetamine (meth) is a highly-addictive amphetamine-type drug. Some is made by pharmaceutical companies for medical use. Most meth used in New Zealand is made in illegal "labs". It is a stimulant available in pill, powder, crystal or liquid forms. It can be swallowed, snorted or injected but is most commonly smoked in a glass pipe or bong.
Source: NZ Drug Foundation
Do you need help?
Anyone affected by methamphetamine addiction is urged to seek help through the Alcohol and Drug Helpline on 0800 787797, or free text 1737 to speak with a trained counsellor.
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