Jailing of Maori separatists stirs colonial-era resentment

Militant Tuhoe tribe members defiant amid claims race relations had been set back 100 years

It began with dawn raids and claims of an IRA-style plot by militant Maori separatists to assassinate politicians and unleash guerrilla warfare. Yesterday, New Zealand's most bizarre – and expensive – criminal case ended with two men jailed, but the public still baffled about events in the remote, mist-shrouded Urewera mountains.

The mountains, home to the fiercely independent Tuhoe tribe, were the site of military-style training camps where recruits learnt to use AK-47s and mount kidnaps and ambushes, according to police. Seventeen people were arrested in the nationwide swoop in 2007, amid plans to invoke tough new anti-terrorist laws. The raids – which saw doors kicked down and people forced out at gunpoint – stunned New Zealanders. Meanwhile, the focus by police on one Urewera hamlet, Ruatoki, revived grievances dating back to British colonisation. Protest marches were staged across the country, and a Maori leader warned that race relations had been set back by 100 years.

From the outset, though, many locals were sceptical about a terror plot, noting that one of the alleged ringleaders, Tame Iti, was better known for colourful stunts such as shooting the New Zealand flag and baring his buttocks at the Queen. Among those detained were a ragtag band of anarchists, environmentalists and peace activists, some of them white. Very quickly the case began to unravel. The Solicitor-General, David Collins, ruled out prosecutions under the anti-terrorism legislation, which he branded "incoherent". Charges against 13 people were dropped after the Supreme Court ruled that video evidence had been unlawfully obtained.

The remaining four defendants – including Mr Iti, who is from Ruatoki and has a moko, or traditional full-face tattoo – were convicted in March of possessing illegal firearms and Molotov cocktails. He and another man, Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara, were jailed for two-and-a-half years yesterday. Sentencing for two others, Urs Signer and Emily Bailey, was adjourned. However, the jury – which watched surveillance footage of armed men in camouflage gear and balaclavas in the forest and listened to phone-tapped discussions about "smashing the state" – could not reach a verdict on a more serious charge of belonging to an organised criminal group. New Zealanders are thus none the wiser about what went on in this isolated corner of the North Island.

Were those overheard talking about blowing up power stations and assassinating then prime minister Helen Clark really plotting an armed revolution and the establishment of an independent Tuhoe state, as police insist? Or were they, as the defendants claimed, merely teaching hunting and survival skills – or playing out harmless commando fantasies?

In the Ureweras, a deep sense of injustice still burns. The raids rekindled memories of the violence and repression which the Tuhoe – known as the "Children of the Mist" – suffered at the hands of British colonisers. Most of the tribe's land was confiscated in the 1860s after they refused to give it up. The tradition of resistance continues. Mr Iti performed a defiant haka, or war dance, after being sentenced.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
filmPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
News
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
people
News
General Election
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Administrator is requ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - Commercial Vehicles - OTE £40,000

£12000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion and growth of ...

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - Sheffield - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer position with a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Leader - Plasma Processing

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Operations Leader is required to join a lea...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders