Northland iwi says roadblocks show importance of partnership between government, iwi

A Tai Tokerau Border Control checkpoint in 2020.
A Tai Tokerau Border Control checkpoint in 2020. Photo credit: Hone Harawira / Facebook


Northland iwi say setting up roadblocks in partnership with police is crucial to help protect Māori communities in preparation of the Auckland borders reopening.

The Public Health Act - with amendments that were passed under urgency - states that a nominated representative of an iwi organisation can run checkpoints only with police or constable supervision.

Te Kahu o Taonui is a group made up of various Northland iwi that want to actively protect their borders and communities of Te Tai Tokerau from COVID-19.

Although the collective did not want the government to open the border between Auckland and Northland, they were hopeful in the partnership with police when it came to managing an influx of people over the summer break.

Te Kahu o Taonui lead chair Harry Burkhardt said vaccination rates in Northland were still behind the rest of the country so working with police was a way to monitor unvaccinated manuhiri who were planning on entering.

"From an iwi, hapū perspective, we've been asking to work alongside the police probably since March 26th, 2020.

"If you look at how iwi and hapū have gone about protecting their rohe, my iwi Ngāti Kuri have taken a really hard-line around shutting the border up ... we were firm that ultimately it was our responsibility to protect our uri and whakapapa.

"So, what we've done is understand that vaccination is a significant part of our tool kit and we're encouraging our whānau to get vaccinated and secondly working with government agencies like the police - and we've had a long association with them," he said.

Authorised iwi representatives or community patrollers can now set up the border checkpoints with permission from the Director-General of Health under a new law within the COVID-19 Public Health Response Act.

These border checkpoints will need to be supervised by police as well.

Burkhardt said Māori vaccination rates still needed to get to above 90 percent for communities to be more safely guarded against potential COVID-19 outbreaks but establishing roadblocks in partnership with police would be useful for protecting Māori communities.

"So, from an iwi chairs point of view our aspiration was 95 percent. So we want to move to those numbers, and fundamentally what they are is proxies.

"We also know that the 90 percent target that's set up today doesn't consider the under count of Māori in our census or those who have tapped out from the health system.

"Anything above 90 percent in my view provides more safeguards."

ACT leader David Seymour is in opposition to iwi being able to legally monitor border checkpoints with police supervision and said it effectively allowed a group of people to take the law upon themselves and stop people from freely moving and exercising their legal rights.

In a tweet in relation to iwi led checkpoints, he said that "Kiwis have a right around the country without being stopped by thugs."

It was a comment Burkhardt labelled as dog-whistle politics.

"It's dog-whistle politics...under the current settings which we've all accepted if you're double vaccinated or you have a negative test, you can move around New Zealand.

"I take exception to the thug bit because fundamentally iwi are being tagged as the dysfunctional part of our communities and I seriously beg to differ, ... there's some amazing stuff around building community wellbeing, resilience, identity, wealth, shared prosperity and those are the bits lots of New Zealand don't see because they don't look," he said.

When Seymour was questioned as to why he appears to have labelled iwi as thugs - he said that is unfortunate if that is people's read on it.

"I can't be responsible for other people misreading what I say.

"It's very clear that if someone is stopping you moving around the country extra legally whether or not you agree with this workaround the police being there supervising you then I think you're a thug," he said.

Burkhardt said exercising a relationship with police and other government agencies was not a sign of power but more so a way for iwi and hapū to extend their ability to protect their communities by working collaboratively with police.

He said current and future governments must recognise and act on partnerships with iwi moving forward.

"Current and future governments must recognise and act on the importance of partnership and collaboration with iwi as the basis of our relationship moving forward. We must not squander the lessons and learnings that a global pandemic has instilled.

"The orthodoxy of the past will not serve us well in a post-pandemic world," he said.