It has been widely reported that approximately three-hundred officers including an elite anti-terrorist “special tactics group” took part in the raids following an investigation into what are alleged to be “military-style” training camps in the Eastern Bay of Plenty - home to the Tuhoe Maori. In Tuhoe Country, the entire community of Ruatoki was blockaded by armed police, with no cars allowed in for several hours.
There have been seventeen reported arrests so far, including well-known Tuhoe Maori activist Tame Iti. At least sixty persons are reportedly being detained for questioning while others who have not yet been taken into custody have had “open warrants” issued against them. An “open warrant” in New Zealand means that the police can return to search their homes at any time, day or night, over the next month. Maori activists are also reporting that police have entered homes with unsigned search warrants, aggressively displaying firearms, intimidating children, and confiscating computers.
Responding to the crises, Maori Party MP Te Ururoa Flavell stated “Maori always predicted it was only a matter of time before the Terrorism Suppression Act would be used against them.” Flavell also noted that the “over-the-top” operation has left Ruatoki school children and families fearful.
Although some non-Maori were arrested during the raids, mainstream media is seizing the opportunity to promote racially biased reporting. The BBC ran a headline reading “Alleged Maori plot against whites" while a headline from London’s Daily Telegraph read "Maori weapons seized in terror camp raid." According to that headline, it would seem even weapons have an indigenous identity in New Zealand.
Across the globe Indigenous Peoples are justifiably concerned with the events unfolding in the South Pacific. The International Indian Treaty Council and other international organizations have issued urgent communications to the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Special Rapportuer on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, among others.
While the raids are a source of outrage, many long-time indigenous activists are not completely surprised by the actions of the New Zealand Government. With the rise of politically conservative controlled governments, aggressions against indigenous rights activists are increasing.
From the military incursions against Indigenous Peoples in Columbia and Australia earlier this year to last year’s Mohawk stand off with Canadian forces in Caledonia as well as the special weapons police operation against unarmed, hunger-striking Taíno activists in the U.S. colony of Puerto Rico in 2005, renewed policies of government-sponsored aggression against First Nations are fast becoming a rule rather than an exception in some countries.
Looking at these events collectively, a pattern of government hostility emerges that one cannot help but to link to the controversy surrounding the recently adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. As most of the world voted to adopt this standard-setting human rights instrument, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States voted against it while Columbia abstained.
If their recent aggressions and votes at the UN are used as a guide, one can conclude that from the perspective of governments, the solution to their “problems” is simple: Indigenous Peoples can sing and dance to bring in tourism revenue but if they speak up about respect for their basic human rights they will be militarily targeted, forcibly removed from their lands, and jailed.
Maori in Aotearoa (New Zealand) are now experiencing this reality. Although The Terrorism Suppression Act was passed in 2002, a Bill currently before New Zealand’s Parliament would amend it, creating a new offence of committing a terrorist act punishable by a sentence of up to life in prison. So far all but one of the current accused has been declined bail. If a bail application is declined in the District Court, an appeal to the High Court can be made but if application is again refused, the accused will remain in custody until the time of trial. Considering the factors in these cases, there is a strong possibility that many freedom fighters and social and environmental activists could face two years imprisonment without trial.
As Indigenous, Human Rights, and Environmental activists worldwide continue to closely monitor the events unfolding in Aotearoa, one can be sure that certain “democratic” governments are also monitoring this situation just as closely in anticipation of their own possible actions against Indigenous Peoples.
UCTP Taino News Editor's Note: A support website for the arrestees has been created with information on support groups, background details, how to write to prisoners and more, at http://www.civilrightsdefence.org.nz/.