'Hīkoi of Truth' march from Rotorua to Waitangi condemned by iwi, Dame Naida Glavish, Hone Harawira for 'unhelpful' timing, anti-vaccination stance

A march from Bay of Plenty to Northland this week by a group espousing anti-lockdown sentiments is being staunchly condemned by iwi and Dame Naida Glavish, who say the protest will put people at unnecessary risk.

The self-proclaimed Sovereign Hīkoi of Truth (SHOT) movement was formed to "bring to light the truth", according to a press release issued on Monday, with its supporters rallied around the common value that New Zealanders are "all free" and "entitled to live in freedom". A hīkoi is defined as a communal walk or march, typically for publicity or as a form of protest.

"Free to travel, free to live without medical discrimination, free to gather and free to demonstrate our own self-determination as living, breathing divine beings," the statement says

The movement, which its organisers say now consists of 12,000 "like-hearted souls", intends to gather "in the name of freedom" in Waitangi, a locality in Northland, on Wednesday, October 27. Waitangi is best known as the location where the Treaty of Waitangi was first signed on February 6, 1840. It is also the place where the Declaration of Independence of New Zealand was signed five years earlier.

According to posts shared on social media, the convoy of protesters intend to travel from Rotorua at midnight on Wednesday and pass through the checkpoint at Mercer, a village near the Waikato-Auckland border, before travelling through Auckland to the Te Hana checkpoint near the Auckland-Northland boundary. They then plan to travel to Waitangi and gather to "assert our right".

"In a series of hui held in a transparent and peaceful manner, it has been agreed that we will assert our right and will travel to Te Tou Rangatira, Waitangi and gather in the name of freedom on October 27, 2021," the statement says.

"We intend to move together, as one, under the korowai of He Wakaputanga o ngā rangatira o ngā hapū o Nu Tīreni in the spirit of love, peace and unity to Waitangi, the birthplace of our nation to stand as one people with hapū to celebrate and affirm the signing of the true constitution for the protection of the people."

As the epicentre of the ongoing outbreak of COVID-19, Auckland remains under alert level 3 restrictions. Motorists who do not have an exemption to enter or leave Auckland for permitted personal or work-related reasons cannot pass the police-manned checkpoints, stationed along the region's northern and southern boundaries. 

Parts of the neighbouring Waikato region are also under alert level 3, including Hamilton City, Raglan, Huntly, Te Kauwhata, Ngāruawāhia and the Waitomo, Waipa and Ōtorohanga Districts. Northland shifted to alert level 2 last week, however cases of COVID-19 have since cropped up in the community. As of Tuesday, there are currently seven active cases in the Northland region and 66 active cases in Waikato.

It's currently unclear if the Hīkoi of Truth organisers have obtained an exemption to cross the checkpoints into and out of Auckland. Requests for confirmation from the police and Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) were not answered before publication, however a spokesperson for the Ministry of Health told Newshub "exemptions are only granted in exceptional circumstances".

"Exemptions are only granted... on a case-by-case basis, and only where this is consistent with the wider public health response to COVID-19. A protest march would not meet the purposes of the Order, so any applications for exemptions for this purpose are unlikely to be approved," the spokesperson said.

"The ongoing public health risk of the highly transmissible Delta variant is high, and these restrictions are to minimise the spread of the virus to other parts of New Zealand – ultimately to keep the whole country safe."

Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Whātua, the representative body corporate established to deal with issues affecting Ngāti Whātua iwi, says the Hīkoi of Truth is "unhelpful" and supported by anti-vaccination protesters.

Ngāti Whātua consist of four tribes - Te Roroa, based in the Waipoua kauri forest, Te Uri-o-Hau and Te Taoū from Kaipara Harbour, and Ngāti Whātua-o-Ōrākei, the mana whenua of central Tāmaki Makaurau (Auckland).

In a statement on Tuesday, Antony Thompson, the chief of operations for Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Whātua, said the "hoo-ha is hōhā [boring or tiresome]" and any hīkoi should be left until lockdown restrictions are waived.

"It's understood that a hīkoi dubbed the Sovereign Hīkoi of Truth (SHOT) intends to travel from Rotorua to Waitangi today against the recommendations of Iwi," Thompson said.

"Ngāti Whātua support the Te Hana checkpoints and keeping COVID-19 Delta in Tāmaki Makaurau. If you do not have an exemption from the Ministry of Health or [MBIE] then do not expect to cross the border."

Dame Rangimārie Naida Glavish, a politician and Ngāti Whātua community leader who served as president of the Māori Party from 2013 to 2016, said iwi are encouraging all whānau to "stay home during these lockdowns and only travel if essential with an exemption". 

"We're not against the hīkoi, only the timing," Dame Glavish said on Tuesday.

"Any hikoi in this lockdown puts in jeopardy the mahi Ngāti Whātua are currently undertaking. Have your hoo-ha when this is done and dusted, right now the hoo-ha is hōhā."

Thompson says the group behind the hīkoi is unknown to Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Whātua, but it understands the organisers "appear to hold anti-vaccination views". 

"There is enough pressure on what Ngāti Whātua are doing at the checkpoints. This hīkoi is unhelpful, supported by people who are anti-vaccination," Glavish said. 

"Ngāti Whātua sees the hikoi as unnecessary pressure on a region struggling to get to targeted vaccination levels amongst Māori. It could generate more cases, more completely avoidable cases," Thompson added.

Ngāti Whātua are now working with iwi and Māori Hauora providers to help combat the spread of COVID-19 in Northland. 

Former Te Tai Tokerau MP Hone Harawira, the spokesperson for the iwi-led Te Tai Tokerau Border Controls, has also condemned the timing of the march, saying in a statement posted to the Ngā Toki o Ngāpuhi Facebook page on Tuesday that the movement is a "scam".

"There is no invitation from Waitangi Marae, no invitation from the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, no invitation from Ngati Kawa or Ngati Rahiri, and no invitation from Ngāpuhi," Harawira said.

"With the COVID outbreak in Northland, there is no invitation extended to unvaccinated outsiders to come to the Tai Tokerau.

"If you wish to honour Te Wakaputanga, hīkoi to where YOUR tupuna signed it. If you want to criticise the government's vaccination program, march to Wellington."

Police told Newshub they are aware of the planned hīkoi and strongly advise those who intend to take part that any travel across the Auckland boundary requires an exemption.

A police spokesperson said there has been planning around this event, and as a result, there will be an increased police presence at the Auckland boundary on Wednesday.

"Those who are found to be deliberately breaching alert level restrictions can expect to face enforcement action," the spokesperson told Newshub.

"Anyone found to have unlawfully crossed the Auckland boundary may also face difficulties in returning to their place of residence given the restrictions in place."

Police said they've been liaising closely with iwi partners in Tāmaki Makaurau and Northland.

"These boundaries are in place to help stop the spread of COVID-19 given the increased risk that the Delta variant poses to our communities," the spokesperson said.

"Police and iwi are coming to this kaupapa from the same place and we remind those intending on taking part in this hīkoi that crossing the boundary cannot happen until such time as COVID-19 restrictions allow for this."

Police advised members of the public not involved in the hīkoi, who may be undertaking permitted travel later on Wednesday evening, to delay this if possible as roads are likely to be closed if those taking part try to unlawfully cross Auckland's boundary.

Newshub has contacted MBIE for comment.