New Zealand: Maoris protest “storm trooper” tactics

New Zealand’s Maori Party harshly protested the Oct. 15 police raids on Maori activists in which 17 were arrested. “This action has violated the trust that has been developing between Maori and Pakeha and sets our race relations back 100 years,” party leader Pita Sharples charged, using the Maori word for New Zealanders of European descent. He called the raids “storm trooper tactics” by a police force that consistently targets the indigenous population.

The 17 face firearms charges, but authorities are considering further charges under the 2002 Suppression of Terrorism Act. “I can hardly believe that negative history is repeating itself,” Sharples said, charging an “orchestrated campaign” against legitimate activists. “No charges have been laid under that act since it was introduced in 2002, so what next? Are we going to see charges and trumped-up evidence to justify this very extreme police action?” Maori Party lawmaker Te Ururoa Flavell said the raids were politically motivated to justify the anti-terrorism act.

New Zealand’s newspapers report the raids targeted a Maori paramilitary group calling itself the Freedom Fighters. Maori sovereignty advocate Tame Iti, among those arrested, was acquitted earlier this year of firing a gun at the New Zealand flag during national day celebrations in 2005. Iti has been denied bail, while bail applications are pending for the others.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen told CNBC TV the raided camps involve “more than Maori activity.” Police Commissioner Howard Broad said the people involved with the camps were of “varying ethnicity,” adding, “There’s a wide range of motivations behind those that have been attending.” He said participants were training for “military-style activity.” Police say they seized napalm bombs, molotov cocktails and assault rifles in the raids. Several of the group are said to be former New Zealand soldiers, some with combat experience in the Vietnam War.

Authorities say Iti, who was under surveillance for months before the raids, named the group “Rama,” the Maori word for enlightenment, and is alleged to have stated three months ago to his followers that he was preparing to “make war on New Zealand.”

Prosecutors also say one of the defendants sent text messages boasting he was going to declare war and that white men would die. The man, Jamie Lockett, said his words had been taken out of context.

The Maori, who make up 14.5 percent of New Zealand’s 4.1 million people, account for almost half of the nation’s prison population and have an unemployment rate more than double the national average. (The Press, Christchurch, Oct. 18; The Age, Melbourne; The Age; Bloomberg, BBC, Oct. 17)

The raids come weeks after the approval of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by the UN General Assembly—with New Zealand one of only four countries dissenting, along with the US, Canada and Australia.

The Maori Party website has posted an Oct. 15 op-ed on the question in The Press of Christchurch by Katherine Peet of the Network Waitangi Otautahi, an educational group focusing on Pakeha responsibility under the Treaty of Waitangi, which established the nation of New Zealand in 1840. In the treaty, Maori headmen agreed to recognize British sovereignty in exchange for guarantees of Maori rangatiratanga (chieftainship or authority). Since 1975, a Waitangi Tribunal has adjudicated and made recommendations in disputes on land and civil rights arising from claims under the treaty. Peet finds New Zealand’s rejection of the Indigenous Declaration particularly ironic in light of its responsibilities under the Waitangi Treaty:

The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, recently adopted by the UN by 143 votes to four (this country was one that opposed it), says that “nothing in this declaration may be interpreted … as authorising or encouraging any action which would dismember or impair, totally or in part, the territorial integrity or political unity of sovereign or independent states.”

The imperative to maintain “political unity” seems to us to invite discussion on these topics. Rather than trying to sweep matters under the carpet, could we be open and frank about them?

The Treaty of Waitangi is not widely seen as a framework for considering the future. More often it is regarded as the cause of grievances.

As an educational organisation working in this field, we have found it useful to take a different tack, and consider what would be lost if the treaty was taken away. Would it be more than the haka [traditional Maori dance] at football matches?…

We should not forget that the treaty gives everyone a place to belong—it is not just a Maori matter. At the time of signing the treaty, “Pakeha” meant everyone who was not Maori. These days such peoples are being referred to as tangata tiriti.

The former chairman of the Waitangi Tribunal, Eddie Durie, said at Waitangi in 1989: “We must also not forget that the treaty is not just a bill of rights for Maori. It is a bill of rights for Pakeha, too. It is the treaty that gives Pakeha the right to be here. Without the treaty, there would be no lawful authority for the Pakeha presence in this part of the South Pacific. The Pakeha here are not like the Indians in Fiji, or the French in New Caledonia. Our Prime Minister can stand proud in Pacific forums, and in international forums, too, not in spite of the treaty, but because of it. We must remember that if we are the tangata whenua, the original people, then the Pakeha are the tangata tiriti, those who belong to the land by right of that treaty.”

The key phrase—there would be no lawful authority for the “Pakeha” presence in this part of the South Pacific—is to us the essential element of what would be lost if the treaty was taken away.

Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias, at a conference at the University of Melbourne in 2003, said that “sovereignty obtained by the British Crown was a sovereignty qualified by the treaty.”

However, Deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen, in 2004, expressed the opposing view: “There is an interesting academic literature which can be used to back such a view. It is one I do not accept.”

This lack of agreement between our political and judicial leaders urgently needs further examination… The treaty, along with the UN declaration, could enable continuing, respectful dialogue so that we all can hold on to what we value. We should welcome the adoption of the declaration as central to the dignity of those of us—tangata tiriti —who are not of Maori descent…

The right of any group to participate in decision-making that directly affects the group is elementary to democracy. This is not about separatism but about understanding the legitimate aspirations of indigenous peoples as set out in the recent UN declaration.

On Waitangi Day [Feb. 6] this year, there was a call for a treaty commissioner… Such a commissioner would provide a practical focus for a treaty-based future.

Development of a treaty-based, multi-ethnic, sustainable future will require acknowledging our differences and respecting what it is that makes these distinctions, while looking for the shared spaces.

This could offer a new future for this Pacific nation and a model for the rest of the world.

Unfortunately, is is starting to look, on the contrary, like the rest of the world is becoming a model for New Zealand…

See our last post on the struggle in Aotearoa/New Zealand.