Reflections on The Urewera 4 Trial

When you pick up a gun, you lose the right to proclaim yourself to be an adherent of the philosophy of Parihaka

The most significant criminal case of our generation.  Or so the narrative goes.  That is how the trial of the four remaining defendants arrested during Operation 8, an investigation into paramilitary camps allegedly being run by Māori separatists deep in the Urewera Bush, was portrayed in the national media over the past few years.  In the end, however, it turned out to be little more than a case of four fairly harmless, if incredibly stupid, individuals playing with guns out in the bush.

I have little comment to make on the legal situation.  The case has been stretching on for many years, with lawyers on both sides hell-bent on litigating every single point of contention.  Trying to unpick the significance of the legal proceedings will require a full dissertation and even then you will still be skating over some of the issues.  At the end of the day, firearms convictions do not warrant the time and expense that has been poured into this case.  On the other hand, the social and political ramifications are far-reaching.

This case strikes right at the heart of Te Ao Māori and our interaction with the Crown.  Its genesis arises in the nexus created between Article 1 of The Treaty of Waitangi and Ko Te Tuarua o Te Tiriti o Waitangi.  The actions of the police in invading Tuhoe in 2005 was a continuation of Crown policy dating back to the sacking of Kororareka in 1845.  To this day, the Crown contends that the entire Northern War against Hōne Heke was necessary and justified in order to suppress rebellion.  The same argument was used to drive the Kingitanga out of the fertile Waikato plains and into the rugged terrain of the King Country.  It was later used to justify the invasion, sacking, and razing of Parihaka and it was the reason for the scorched earth policy against Tūhoe.

Those who see the Urewera raids as an isolated event are doomed to repeat the mistakes of past generations.  Each incident highlighted above is a manifestation of the inherent conflict between Article 1 and Ko Te Tuarua.  A supreme sovereign cannot sit side-by-side with the guaranteed right of Tino rangatiratanga.  Without agreement between Māori, the Crown, and the citizens of New Zealand as to the proper interpretation of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the respective rights granted within, there can be no guarantee that the Urewera raids will turn out to be the last great show of force by the Crown.

Politically, this is a nightmare situation for the Labour Party.  The Māori Party, Greens and Hone Harawira are leading calls for an independent inquiry into the whole process and the independent Māori members of Parliament want an official apology issued to Tūhoe for the actions of the Crown during the execution of Operation 8.  National does not have to do anything, and can sit back comfortable in the knowledge that the vast majority of the country has already forgotten about the entire event. The raids did not happen under their watch, and the criminal charges that the Urewera 4 were convicted on were of such a minor degree that they can draw a line under this process and move on.

Labour, however, are wishing that no one calls them out on their position.  Why, for example, are they not joining the calls of the other opposition parties for an independent inquiry into police action?  As the party of Ratana, the self-proclaimed saviours of Māori, they should be front and centre of the calls for redress to be made to Tūhoe.  But, as you well know, the Labour Party were implicit in this entire sham.  They passed the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002, an Act described by the Solicitor-General as unworkable and ineffective and, more damagingly, the Fifth Labour Government stands accused of driving the entire police investigation and prosecution.  Lew makes the point that Māori were specifically targeted here and that, for example, “the Right Wing Resistance are free to continue with their training camps and their pseudo-secessionist projects, unmolested.”  This was not about suppressing rebellion, it was designed to send a clear message to Māori of our “rightful” place in New Zealand.  For Labour to make a big deal out of this issue now would expose their complete and utter bankruptcy on Māori issues.

Finally, a word out there to any Māori who considers the actions of the defendants to be justified, or in any way worshipped.  You are as deluded as the defendants are in thinking that progress will be made through the use of guns or other weaponry.  Study our history.  Māori have long embraced the attitude of passive resistance.  In 1881 a large contingent of Kingitanga and Ngāti Maniapoto, led by Tawhiao, symbolically laid down their guns before Government officials at Alexandra (now named Pirongia) as an act of peace between two nations.  Let the great Rangatira of our past guide our actions today.


  1. I have he horrible feeling that the decision to set up the checkpoint right on top of the confiscation line was a deliberate tactic to let
    Tuhoe know exactly who was boss.

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