Tuhoe fly flags of defiance
As soon as we crossed the Whakatane River into Tuhoe Country we noticed the flags. The 1835 Declaration of Independence flag, with its subversive reinvention of the cross of St George, flew from the back of an old pick-up truck, then from the window of a beat-up Ford Escort, then from a clenched fist in a field. Elsewhere we saw the Tuhoe national flag, with its great field of green and proud legend Te Mana Motuhake o Tuhoe, and the red and black Tino Rangatiratanga banner designed by activists in the '90s. All three flags are symbols of defiance against colonisation and the colonial state. Along with the shuttered blinds of roadside cottages and the hostile glances that pedestrians shot at passing police in the little townships of Taneatua and Ruatoki North, the flags showed how Tuhoe people feel about the invasion of their rohe by armed police on Monday morning.
News reports had named Taneatua Squash Club as the headquarters of the police operation, and as we approached the squat concrete building I counted eleven white and blue cars and vans in its carpark. We stopped to take a photo out the window: a cop burst through the front door and ran towards us, waving his fist and swearing. In Ruatoki North, cop cars crawled up either side of main street, and TV crews aimed their cameras at the marae where members of the community were meeting to discuss their response to last Monday's raid. Two Maori reporters allowed into the hui emerged with reports of gun-toting cops setting up roadblocks, then forcing random motorists out of their cars and making them to hold up numbers while they were photographed. A cop boarded a schoolbus, and 'searched' the terrified kids at the point of a gun. Tame Iti's partner last saw him spreadeagled on the ground, with a dog in his face and a gun in the back of his head.
Some of the stupider journalists embedded with the police are describing 'Operation Ate' as 'historic'. For anybody who lives in Tuhoe Country, and for any outsider with even a cursory knowledge of the history of the area, last Monday's raid fits into an all too familiar pattern. This is a place which has been repeatedly violated by the Crown and its armed representatives. From 1865 to 1872, government forces repeatedly invaded the Ureweras to punish Tuhoe for their participation in the Waikato war and hunt for anti-imperialist leaders like Kereopa Te Rau and Te Kooti.
In 1916, the prophet Rua Kenana's peaceful attempt to build a free society under the sacred mountain of Maungapohatu was destroyed by a raid that killed one of his sons and took him away to prison. The latest raid is the bitter fruit of an enormous survelliance operation established in the aftermath of the great seabed and foreshore hikoi of 2004, which split the Labour party and threw the government into a panic.
The thousand-strong hikoi to the police station in the small town of Whakatane today gives us a hint at the anger Tuhoe and other iwi feel about last Monday's events. Along with the protests following the arrest of activists in other centres, today's hikoi will be the beginning of a mass movement against a police state beat-up. Today's decision to deny bail to all seventeen arrestees, and thus leave them sitting in prison for months when they face only the most trivial charges, will only build the backlash against the police, the SIS, and their political masters. Stay tuned to indymedia for information on meetings and demos.