Rawiri Taonui: Checkpoints – A Pākehā or Māori problem?

Rawiri Taonui: Checkpoints – A Pākehā or Māori problem?

There are increasing tensions around Māori community checkpoints. Don Brash, leader of Hobsons Plebs, has previously called them illegal. This is interesting given that it is the role of the Police to interpret the law, we are in an extraordinary life-and-death emergency and the checkpoints have been working with local bodies and the Police for some time to ensure respectful conduct, and adequate processes and layouts are followed.

I have had communication from one couple who did complain after an incident at a checkpoint. One of the complainants was Māori. My interpretation was that the complaint had nothing to do with the checkpoint or how it was operated but rather was about the complainant disliking some of the people at the checkpoint because of unrelated tribal matters. The Police also spoke with the complainant and the following day allowed the checkpoint to re-open.

The National Party Opposition has begun questioning the checkpoints. National’s police spokesperson Brett Hudson and National Leader, Simon Bridges reported that a gang member had stopped an elderly Pākehā gentleman in his 70s at a checkpoint in the Bay of Plenty and previewing him from buying milk. Police  talked with the man and he said he spoke to two women at a checkpoint and that they were cordial, polite and professional and had advised him to go home because the shop had closed.

A few days ago, Pākehā National MP Matt King called for Maori checkpoints to be closed because ‘people’ feel ‘intimidated, bullied and threatened’. Unconsciously, he probably means white people.

Don’t get me wrong, I know how they feel. I used to feel the same way whenever I encountered Pākehā in anything remotely like a uniform, the Police, the dentist especially and the school patrol outside my daughter’s primary school. I now appreciate they are there to help.

Regrettably, some Pākehā people stay this way their whole their life simply because the person in front of them is brown. Unfortunately, that is not our problem; it is their problem. What they need to do is see this as an opportunity to get to know their Māori neighbours, improve their cross-cultural skills and who knows maybe practice some te reo.

Ngāi Takoto spokesman, Craig Hobson, has made it clear that iwi concerns about COVID-19 are not just for their members but the whole community, saying ‘He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata’, ‘COVID-19 concerns everyone in the community, not Māori alone’.

East Coast checkpoint coordinator, Tina Ngata, has said that the checkpoints are no different to how many community events use Māori wardens to direct traffic. She also said that feedback from those passing through was generally positive.

Stuff News reported that Deputy Police Commissioner, Wally Haumaha, has noted that these are unprecedented times and that the Police were working with communities across the country to restrict the spread of this virus.

In respect of the checkpoints, Haumaha said ‘We are working with iwi who are taking the lead to ensure rural communities that don’t have immediate access to support services are well protected’. We are all coming to this kaupapa from the same place – out of a need to protect the most vulnerable in the community. Iwi are taking a strong leadership role and we want to model what it looks like when iwi, police, councils and other agencies work in partnership. Our role is supporting this cultural response to COVID-19’.

Let us remember, we are in this together and thus far we are winning. Everyone is doing their bit. It is COVID-19 that is threatening and intimidating New Zealand, not Māori communities. The checkpoints have played a vital role in protecting remote Māori and Pākehā communities from highly infectious and lethal COVID-19. This is ever so more important because of the very clear picture of significant under-testing in the regions. It was doubly important in stopping law-breaking urbanite holidaymakers attempting to travel to regional holiday spots over Easter.

We owe the volunteers at these checkpoints a debt of gratitude. We will never know if they have stopped an outbreak. More importantly, we will never know that they did not.

Next time you encounter a checkpoint, try a hearty ‘kia ora’ and a happy ‘ka kite’. He aha te mea nui, he tāngata.

Kia noho haumaru, stay safe and self-sovereign, Dr Rawiri Taonui

Photo: Hone Harawira