Iwi across the country are securing their borders as the nation settles into COVID-19 lockdown, writes Kayne Ngātokowhā Peters.
From the Far North to East Cape and Auckland, iwi have begun to put in place rāhui to protect their territories from infection by visitors or returning locals. A rāhui is a cultural practice normally put in place with a karakia by tangata whenua, prohibiting access to reserves, parks and waterways as a conservation measure. Most of the latest rāhui appear to have the support of police and wider communities.
Ngāti Tūtemohuta, a hapū (subtribe) of Central North Island iwi Ngāti Tūwharetoa, has placed a rāhui that extends from the Taupō airport in Wharewaka to Hatepe on the eastern shores of Lake Taupō. The action is designed to protect their community of more than 120 families from COVID-19.
The rāhui reaches out to a 15km radius from Waitahanui Marae and covers all reserves and parks from the airport, extending along State Highway One to Hatepe hill. It includes Waitahanui Village, Waitahanui River, Wharewaka Reserve, Awaroa Reserve, Five Mile Bay and Rotongaio Bay.
This means access to all those areas and waterways is prohibited to non-residents. The rāhui came into effect on Monday 23 March with a karakia at the Waitahanui river mouth.
“This is intended to reduce the chances of transmission of the virus into our village in Waitahanui,” says Ngāti Tūtemohuta spokesperson Ngatoru Wall.
Wall says the hapū decided to include the airport area within the rāhui because of people who may be traveling to Taupō from contaminated areas.“We knew the lockdown was going to happen. And we knew we had to find the courage to do this ourselves to protect our whānau.”
The Five Mile Bay area is a popular spot for tourists and travelers to park up on the shores of Lake Taupō for a swim or to set up camp. But the hapū is not taking any chances.
“We’ve got street coordinators that will patrol State Highway One, Koropupu, Wairau Ave, Blake Road, Mill Road, Pihimanini Road, Hurae Road, Rāwāhi,” says Wall. “And we are just checking on our whānau making sure they are ok.”
The hapū have posted signs throughout the rāhui area along State Highway One and are hopeful non-residents will comply. “We need to clear our spaces because our kids need to be safe,” says Wall. “Our families need to be safe.”
While the rāhui is in place will there should be no hunting, fishing, swimming or no overnight camping.“Hunting and fishing will only be permitted by our hapū kai gatherers during the rāhui to allow food to be sourced and distributed amongst the whānau.”
While no meetings are taking place during the COVID-19 level 4 alert, Taupō District Council confirmed that all reserves and parks where freedom camping is normally allowed are already closed.
Wall says the rāhui will remain in effect for the duration and is being assessed daily in accordance with advice by Ministry of Health officials. It will be lifted once the hapū has advice from the Ministry that it is safe to do so. “Only our kaumatua, who placed the rāhui, must remove it.”
On the East Cape checkpoints were set up at midday on March 25 by local iwi Te Whānau-ā-Apanui to ensure they can protect their community of more than 1100 people, including more than 200 elderly.
Two checkpoints have been set on each side of the tribe’s boundary along State Highway 35; one, at Pōtikirua, outside of Whangaparaoa (Cape Runaway) and the other at Hāwai to the East of Ōpōtiki.
Ōpōtiki District Councilor from Te Whānau-ā-Apanui, Louis Rapihana, says, “When we made the announcement publicly, we actually went into meetings with the District Ccouncil, the Regional Council and the New Zealand Police, to advise them of the stance of Te Whānau-ā-Apanui and also to look to them for assistance in how we can work together for the safety of our community.”
Rapihana says the iwi have banded together with around 20 volunteers manning the checkpoints around the clock.“We’ve currently got a roster made up of volunteers who go out during the day and during the night to monitor the boundaries.”
He says the iwi plans to keep the checkpoints in place for the next two months.“All of our volunteers are prepared to do that for the safety of our pakeke [elders]”.
There has been some opposition from whānau who do not live within the area but wanted to return home to help take care of their elderly, says Rapihana.
“They’re coming from the likes of Rotorua and Auckland where there have been confirmed cases. And it’s been a matter of having the conversation with them that they’re actually safer to stay away from our pakeke at this time until we get the all-clear.”
Te Whānau-ā-Apanui are also ensuring they take measures to protect their volunteers. “There is only one caravan as a base for the whānau. So only one person can be there at a time. When one person comes out they have to sanitise the whole place down for another volunteer to go in. On top of that, they have protective gear and they also keep a two metre distance from the vehicles when they approach them.”
To ensure traffic safety, Te Whānau-ā-Apanui have signage throughout the area, as well as a sign in Ōpōtiki warning travelers of the checkpoints.
As well as these actions, locals in Ruatoria have also set up a checkpoint to monitor who is coming in and out of their township.
In the Far North, iwi are continuing to guard their borders and turn away non-residents. Former parliamentarian and spokesperson for the border actions Hone Harawira says support from iwi, police and people of Te Tai Tokerau has shown how well the community has been able to band together to keep their families safe.
“The imposition of the lockdown has had the desired effect of clearing the roads of all tourist movement,” he says.
The focus now is on identifying tourists still in the area and directing them to safe places where they pose no threat to the people of the Far North.“We will also be supporting an initiative to provide ongoing medical support to kaumātua and kuia across the region.
On March 26, whānau at Ihumātao, the historic disputed land near Auckland International Airport, decided to place a rāhui over their area.
Pania Newton, face of the land occupation at Ihumātao, shared a video on her Instagram account announcing the rāhui was in place.
“We have been practicing our social isolation amongst ourselves. But we have decided amongst ourselves as a whānau, down here at the whenua, that we will isolate ourselves from everybody else.”
The action means they can no longer receive manuhiri (visitors).“We’ve asked those who don’t need to be here to go from here,” says Newton.
She says there are about 25 people remaining, which make up five families. “It’s not a bad place to be isolated.”
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