The threat of infection brings together unlikely allies in Murupara, reports Kayne Peters.
Volunteers at a Murupara checkpoint have shared a video to social networking app TikTok revealing unity between local gangs and iwi.
The two checkpoints on State Highway 38 have been operated by local iwi Ngāti Manawa, Ngāti Whare and Ngāti Haka since week two of New Zealand’s lockdown. And local members of the Mongrel Mob and Tribesman gangs have been in full support to protect the 1800-strong community.
The TikTok video comes after iwi checkpoint organiser Leila Rewi shared concerns on social media about the reaction to gang members helping at the checkpoints.
“Whether we like it or not they are a part of Murupara just like the rest of us,” Rewi said. “They have been polite and smile whilst on checkpoints. I’ve been getting it’s not a good look for Murupara. Well we ain’t gonna sugar coat it and act like they don’t exist. So why not utilise them in a good way.”
The TikTok video shows local residents, gang members and descendants of Ngāti Manawa, Ngāti Whare, Ngāti Haka, Ngāi Tūhoe and Ngāti Kahungunu dancing at a checkpoint and collecting firewood for their community in Murupara.
The video features the song “Stay” from Loop Recordings, written and performed by various New Zealand artists.
Rewi says, “Colours aside, it’s all about our people. And I just feel really overwhelmed. It’s hard to explain how we’ve all come together.”
Deets Edwards, a member of the Mighty Mongrel Mob’s Barbarian Chapter, features in the TikTok video and says that although there are negative views of gangs, this is a time the whole community needs to band together.
“This sort of mahi (work) we can’t do without each other.”
He says there are Mongrel Mob members from other chapters who are also volunteering their time to support the iwi checkpoints.
“There’s a good handful of us helping out. If we’re not on the road then we’re cooking kai. And we take it out to the whānau who are manning the checkpoints.”
Edwards says the kai also goes to whānau in the community who are in need.
“We just have to look after us as a people. It’s just something that comes natural for us that are from a small community.”
Edwards says there has been a lot of positive feedback and some negative.
“It’s about being there for our people. So all those negatives, we just push through the fight. We are working together as a whānau and we’re moving forward as a whānau.”
Tribesman gang member Zane ‘T’ Tapara says, “I’m doing this for my children, mokopuna and whānau.”
Edwards says the united effort ensures their community is protected from any possible contamination. “At the end of the day we’ve got the same drive and that is to keep Covid-19 out of our rohe (region). To me, that’s the enemy we can’t see. That’s the enemy we need to protect our people from.”
Edwards acknowledges the checkpoints and food would not have been made possible without support “I’d like to give a mihi to all the people that have given a koha that has helped us along this journey. Like our iwi trusts.”
Small businesses have also provided koha, along with Save Our Babies Charitable Trust in Rotorua, which has been delivering kai to support the community.
“It’s quite a warm feeling to know people outside of Murupara are thinking of us,” says Edwards.
Rewi says there were lots of motorists out on the road when the checkpoints were set up, but the numbers have seen a recent decline. “Since we’ve been doing our checkpoints, I think they’ve been educating motorists on the risks as a small town. So they turn around.”
Murupara locals normally travel to Rotorua or Whakatane for shopping, as the township has no major supermarket, but many have chosen to use the local Four Square instead. “Our Four Square is a little bit expensive but it saves them from going out to pick up food at the grocery store and bringing it back to Murupara.
“So the checkpoints are doing what we wanted them to do – to educate,” says Rewi. “Because we’re covering our surrounding areas too, so Rerewhakaaitu and Kaingaroa. They all come and use our services – our gas station and our Four Square.”
To ensure all volunteers at the checkpoints are protected from possible threat of the virus, a health and safety officer patrols each checkpoint on behalf of Ngāti Manawa, providing support and advice.
“We’re putting our lives on the line,” Reiw says. “We’re all stepping outside of our own bubble and then go back to our families. We are putting our own families at risk to help the wider communities and the nation. So thank you. We couldn’t do it without our volunteers.”
Each checkpoint volunteer does a six-hour shift. The checkpoints are running 24 hours a day, and will remain in place until the Government brings the alert system to Level 3.
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