Tame Iti’s place in the Maori revolution (Marika Hill)

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(Stuff) Thickset, face engraved with moko, fluent in Te Reo Maori. Tame Iti styles himself a Maori activist, a man battling for the soul of his nation. In court, he was likened to Nelson Mandela, a prophet who did not deserve to be misjudged in his own time.

The Crown, however, has a different view of him. Through a prolonged legal battle over the past five years, it has cast him as a dangerous proto-terrorist intent on infecting New Zealand with an armed struggle against the state.

Whatever the truth, being the lead actor at the heart of such political and judicial drama would have catapulted most people to the forefront of the ranks of the discontented and cemented Iti as a rallying point for the simmering discontent of Maori, ready to boil over.

Instead, Iti appears to occupy an ambivalent place in the view of wider Maoridom. Some say he is at most a marginal martyr, a bit player at the sides. His behaviour is seen as theatrical antics to gain attention that is no longer needed. Iti is no revolutionary, it seems. Instead, say some Maori, he is something of an anachronism.

They say the real revolutionaries of Maori aspirations are in suits, carrying law or business degrees, and storming the walls of Pakeha capitalism with no time for distracting sideshows.

Academic Rawiri Taonui is withering in his assessment of Iti and his Urewera comrades. “They were far more a risk to themselves than they were to the fabric of New Zealand society,” he says.

“If I met them in the bush I’d give them a really wide berth, not because I was scared of them but because they’re probably going to shoot their foot off and I’d have to fix it up.” He points to similar behaviour among many hunting groups.

“Things like people filling up bottles with petrol and throwing them around you see that in hunting circles.” But others found it difficult to believe the Urewera Four were just playing games.

The jury was presented a barrage of evidence beer bottles used as molotov cocktails, IRA manuals, ammunition and guns and texts talking about “killing white motherf…ers”.

Two teenagers were blindfolded and searched at gunpoint when they visited the training camp for a health lesson.

The defence said the Crown’s case took everything out of context.

But Taonui said the evidence had been sensationalised and insisted the Urewera training camps were just boys foolishly playing soldiers in the bush.

“They were just being silly, and that’s not being helpful for race relations. There will be a perception we’re all terrorists.”

During the trial, Tuhoe claims spokesman Tamati Kruger said police surveillance cameras failed to give an accurate impression of what was going on in the Urewera Ranges.

Tuhoe’s land is scarred with history. The iwi’s ancestors were pushed off the most fertile land in 1866.

Their land plundered and their prospects vanished, Kruger told the court he found it reasonable for those people to be in a “state of hatred”.

This hurt is re-enacted when Tuhoe people come together.

“History is never past. It’s with us.” During the arrests of October 2007, Tuhoe felt once again they were being marched off their sacred land.

Since then, progress has been made to mend the rift, beginning with a symbolic Treaty of Waitangi agreement last year that restarted claim negotiations.

Professor Ranginui Walker agreed the training camps were just a show, much like when Iti once fired a shotgun at the New Zealand flag.

“What you see depicted in the media time and time again is the shooting of the flag. That’s all theatre; that’s all consistent with Maori culture.

“It looks spectacular on TV and Pakeha get intimidated by it because they don’t understand it’s theatre.”

There is no point rising up against the state, which has all the fire power, he said. “It’s crazy, no one in their right minds would contemplate that.

“The trouble with Pakeha is they don’t have the same sense of history that Maori have. Maori have a different view of reality.” For some Maori, history is repeating itself.

LITTLE HAS CHANGED SINCE BASTION POINT – ACTIVIST

The trial of the Urewera Four coincided with the 35th anniversary of the occupation of Bastion Point in Auckland.

Joe Hawke led the occupation to protest against the Crown’s decision to sell land confiscated from Ngati Whatua. Police and army forcibly evicted the occupiers after 506 days.

Hawke says he went to the opening day of the Urewera trial to impart his hope and courage to the accused.

“I’m in his [Iti’s] corner because I know how the law of the country treats people like him because I’ve been treated the same way.” Around 300 police invaded land sacred to the Tuhoe during the anti-terror raids in 2006.

Hawke says this showed little has changed from the armed eviction of Bastion Pt occupiers.

“Europeans never understood. They always termed everything Maori did as crazy, as lunatic, as loony-bins. That’s the only theory they could put into their vocabulary that would give them an excuse to get the army in.” He agreed with the academics that there was never a terrorism threat.

“They would never level a gun at another man, woman or child with the intention of putting a bullet through their brain. No way. It was their tribal way of acting out the past.”

Hawke says Iti, who once lived with him as a teenager, was now seen as a martyr and if he was eventually imprisoned it would come as no surprise to Maori.

“We’re used to the same old stuff, the old jargon of Britain’s law.”

Mana Party leader Hone Harawira also weighed in to the debate early on in the trial, branding the Crown’s pursuit of the Urewera Four “deeply racist”.

“The Crown can be a nasty piece of work when it goes after ordinary New Zealanders.”

However, Harawira represents a new type of activist. He fights his cause from the Beehive, rather than the fields of Bastion Pt or the forests of the Ureweras.

Taonui said Maori lawyers, academics and politicians are forcing change within the establishment they once battled against.

“There are no terrorist camps and there’s not going to be an armed invasion into Auckland; Maori gave up armed struggle back in the 1880s. The young, educated Maori who walk between Maori and Pakeha worlds are the revolutionaries of today.”

– Fairfax NZ News

4 COMMENTS

  1. Rawiri Taonui says some interesting things but saying the real revolutionaries of Maori aspirations are in suits is complete crap and he ought to keep his opinion to himself.

    Sure Tame is theatrical, but it is theatre that creates culture and his is certainly derived from an authentically maori mindset and not the academically contaminated philosophies of the pounamu wearing elite.

    I do agree that the battle is over, but the changes happening in the establishment are compromises and concessions that are changing Maori culture and not always for the better. The young and educated may be storming the walls of Pakeha capitalism, but they are also becoming swallowed by it, perpetrating the same failed systems.

    Tame is back in his own community, helping his own whanau and living life as a Tuhoe. Those are the Maori who are the true revolutionaries, those who do not seek the money and glamour of the urban lights but instead spend their energy and time improving the lives of their own whanau, hapu and communities

    “Academic Rawiri Taonui is far more a risk to Maori than Tame Iti I say.

  2. Theatrical it may be, and intentionally so i believe, but it generates awareness in mainstream society! and among Maori as well, how else will the truth about history be revealed? certainly not in schools and certainly not thru the media…we are a generation still recovering from Colonisation, WWI and WWII, but i feel Its time for us as Maori to move beyond the victimisation of our people, to pick our selves up out of the ashes, and i would say that, that is at the Heart of Tame’s theatre.
    Wake up Aotearoa, we live in a CIA controlled state, where democracy is an illusion for both Maori and Pakeha alike, the media is a tool of mass influence, the government are puppets to the Crown and their Merovingian global agenda. True freedom for everyone will come when we are not controlled by government and their Police/Military thugs, mostly mindless ones at that…when education is free and Science is focussed on Creation an not Destruction, and harmony with Nature is considered vital to the well being of the whole planet.

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