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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
From Mean Girls to Mamet: Lindsay Lohan
theatre
Sport
Nathaniel Clyne (No 2) drives home his side's second goal past Arsenal’s David Ospina at the Emirates
footballArsenal 1 Southampton 2: Arsène Wenger pays the price for picking reserve side in Capital One Cup
News
Mike Tyson has led an appalling and sad life, but are we not a country that gives second chances?
peopleFormer boxer 'watched over' crash victim until ambulance arrived
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
tv
News
i100
Travel
travelGallery And yes, it is indoors
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
The Tiger Who Came To Tea
booksJudith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
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

Account Executive/Sales Consultant – Permanent – Hertfordshire - £16-£20k

£16500 - £20000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

KS2 PPA Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Worthing!

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: KS2 PPA Teacher currently nee...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Day In a Page

Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

BBC Television Centre

A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

My George!

Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world