I remember 15 October 2007 as clearly as if it were yesterday. The horror of what our Tūhoe whanaunga were being subjected to that day will always remain as a dark stain on the fabric of this nation. An entire community was placed in lock down as police in full riot gear, armed to the hilt with weaponry which would make even a member of our SAS wince at using them on an enemy, let alone a fellow countryman, went from house to house and forced our koro, kuia and tamariki to lie prostrate before them in the ultimate show of submission to authority. Arrests were made, and in the Pākehā psyche the people of Tūhoe will forever be linked with terrorism, much like the people of Islam are throughout the United States.
I joined the protest marches in Auckland. We marched on the police station and on the Mt Eden Prison, with Tūhoe in front expressing their anger over police action on that fateful day. The anger was not over the arrests, but at the conduct of the New Zealand Police force. It was a situation unprecedented in modern-day New Zealand, but for Māori it echoed the dark days of the 1800s when the armed constabulary marched down the Waikato Road raging war on Tainui, descended upon Parihaka, and scorched the whenua of Ngāi Tūhoe. History, it seems, was hell-bent on repeating itself.
At its core, the invasion of Te Urewera was motivated by power. It was never about terrorism or national security. The New Zealand Government, fearful of rising Māori nationalism, needed to send a very clear message to Māori that their place was one of subjugation and submission. That by sheer force of numbers, the Pākehā had the sole right to rule this land. The invasion of Te Urewara was the action of a desperate government seeking to legitimatise its tenuous claims to the sovereignty of Aotearoa.
The great irony of the invasion of Te Urewara is that the Clark Administration was at the same time actively engaged in the overthrow of the oppressive Taliban regime in Afghanistan. On the one hand, it was committed to the ideological pursuit of freedom for the oppressed in Afghanistan, yet sought to maintain the oppression of Ngāi Tūhoe within its own territory. Delving deeper into this hypocrisy, the Clark Administration actively supported the rights of Palestine over the oppressive Israeli regime. The Government looked to support the existence of dual and overlapping sovereignty in the Holy Land, yet was determined to destroy any attempts to have a similar position recognised in relation to Aotearoa New Zealand.
Ngāi Tūhoe never signed Te Tiriti o Waitangi and at no time in their history have they recognised the legitimacy of the English Monarch as Rangatira over their rohe. The Government of New Zealand has made a sustained effort to force Ngāi Tūhoe into submission yet the iwi have not swayed from their determination to uphold their mana over their whenua. The Government’s invasion in 2007 only served to strengthen Ngāi Tūhoe. It’s sovereignty remains intact.