Once More On The Urewera 4

Stephen Franks has written on the excellent Native Affairs discussion of the Urewera 4 trial on Monday Night, and he raises a few points that should be discussed in the Māori context.  I have previously written articles on the trial, and you can find these here, and here.

Franks opens his article with the following comment on the decision of the four defendants to appear on national television:

It was odd that defendants awaiting sentencing were not persuaded by their lawyers out of appearing. What a dilemma they present for the judge, having publicly shown an absence of remorse in the case of the Tuhoe two, and defiance in the case of the Parihaka pair.

The collective decision of the Urewera 4 could well prove to be poorly made.  No Judge is going to look to kindly on their actions, and comments on Monday night.  And while jail sentences will no doubt harden their core support and prove to be a rallying point against the Crown, to think that this is what some people within Te Ao Māori consider to be martyrdom is deeply disturbing.  To what end were these people seeking to achieve deep in the heart of the Urewera’s?  There convictions did not arise because they were protesting some grand social cause, or occupying land that should rightfully return to Māori.

Which brings me to Parihaka.  While I do not doubt the veracity of the claims made by Bailey and Signer that they have the support of some of the people of Parihaka, I find such support to be an insult to the memory of Te Whiti and Tohu and everything they stood for.  Parihaka was founded as a bastion of peaceful resistance following a period of unprecedented bloodshed in Taranaki.  Violence of any kind towards the Crown was strictly forbidden and even when the Crown marched on Parihaka on 5 November 1881, the people of Parihaka remained steadfast in their adherence to peace.  Guns and molotov cocktails do not fit with the history, teachings, and traditions of Parihaka.

Ultimately, we appear to be forgetting the main cause of the grievance of the “terror raids” carried out by the New Zealand Police.  It was not the arrest, trial, and ultimate conviction of the Urewera 4; but rather the callous, brutal, and insulting manner in which the Police conducted themselves on that fateful day. Insult upon insult was forced upon the people of Tuhoe, those completely innocent of any wrongdoing whatsoever.  From setting up a cordon on the confiscation line, to the full commando gear worn by the police, to the intimidation of whanau, and the complete isolation of a community, this was no ordinary police action.  It was the misguided actions of a State enforcing its power and dominance over a community that had done no wrong.

Franks asks why no Māori lawyer could be found to argue the Crown’s case.  It is not because we all believe that those convicted were correct in what they did.  Far from it.  He is correct in his assertion that many Māori were affronted by the actions and excuses of the defendants, but that does not change our utter contempt towards the Police and the State for their actions at Ruatoki.

Time For An Inquiry

With the legal proceedings almost at an end, it is time for an official inquiry.  The reality is that a massive controversy has been simmering in this country for 5 years over what has amounted to a few convictions for firearm offences.  What we have witnessed is a massive structural failure in our legal system.  Poorly drafted legislation, an inefficient and secretive Court system, poor legal advice and advocacy, and an ill-informed and legally-inept legislature has eroded public confidence in the legal system.  Both Crown and Defence Counsel exploited numerous technicalities to drag this case through four years of hearings; the Government has yet to repeal the Suppression of Terrorism Act despite being told by the Solicitor-General that it is simply unworkable in its current form; and the powers of the police to interfere in, and monitor the lives of, citizens continue to expand.

Franks believes that unless we can assemble a team as proficient as the one that designed ACC then any inquiry is doomed to failure.  There is, however, at least one person still around who was instrumental in designing the world-class ACC system.  Perhaps it is time for the Prime Minister to call Sir Geoffrey Palmer and ask him to serve his country one last time.


  1. Hmm, I’d rather follow the korero of people like Ruakere Hond and Huirangi Waikerepuru when it comes to Parihaka and where they stand on this take.

    • As is your right. I too would be fascinated to hear an explanation as to how the actions of the defendants fits within the teachings and philosophies of Te Whiti and Tohu.

  2. What ‘actions’ are you referring to? Learning how to handle a gun safely? I am certain that plenty of people in Parihaka know that. Signer pointed out on Native Affairs a few weeks ago that there was no evidence of the 4 on trial throwing Molotov Cocktails at the old stove. If you still think that this was all about murder and mayhem, then you need to get with the times…!

    • Believe what you want Peter, but coming from a member of the Oct 15 Solidarity Group I would expect you to support these four regardless of how the actions of the defendants have been perceived by Maori throughout the country. They are not hero’s as your organisation would have us believe, they are idiots who thought it would be harmless to play with firearms in the bush. It reflects poorly on Parihaka for the community to support such action given the pacifist tradition of Te Whiti and Tohu, regardless of the motives of the defendants.

  3. How can you all of a sudden disregard the motives of the defendants? That doesn’t make sense, because in your case you seem to have decided to accept the prosecutions’ case.

    As for me being affiliated with Oct 15 Solidarity: we never said the defendants are heros (or martyrs).

    I think it reflects poorly on you who has stated in a previous blog post that Tuhoe have not given away their sovereignty, to say that there is something wrong with ‘playing with guns in the bush.’ What’s wrong is that you seem to have accepted the crown case. However, even the crown – at trial – has said the defendants were pursuing peaceful negotiations and only if these fail there would be a ‘B plan’. Tame Iti has time and again dispelled that illusion.

    Learning how to use firearms (amongst other things) might not be every lawyers’ cup of tea – but it is a reality for 1000s of people in this country.

    • Tuhoe can do what they want in the Urewera’s, it is not my place to interfere in their internal affairs or sovereignty. Bailey and Signer are not Tuhoe, they are at Parihaka so your attempt to find an inconsistency in my argument is flawed. Guns are a reality? You make it sound like the use of firearms is an inevitability forced upon people because of their socio-economic status. The decision to pick up a gun is a personal choice and a deeply political action.

      Your rush to defend these people means that you are missing the nuances of my argument. I have time and time again berated the Crown for their actions during the invasion and through the trial, but that does not absolve the defendants, who have been convicted for the illegal use of firearms. The Parihaka tradition is one of passive resistance, and not armed resistance, or training, or whatever justification is being used.

  4. I can see both sides here. Guns and gun training is a reality in the Ureweras and such activities suggest nothing sinister. Having said that, Joshua is right in that the use of guns, in this particular case that is, had some political overtones. However, those overtones were overplayed and misconstrued. Ultimately, I think, Tame and co. were just playing silly buggers on the piss. “Dickheads”, as Russell Brown puts it, not terrorists.

  5. I am not Tuhoe and I am not Parihaka. He Hawaii Au and as such I am a older sibling who have experience the racism and bully policies of the greatest war mongers on this planet, the united snakes of america. What the americans are doing to us is the same as what the crown is doing to Tangata Whenua. The Urewera Whanau have a right to express their displeasure heap upon them by the crown by any means necessary. Let us remember forever that there is a authority in your homelands that exist by any means necessary by hook or crook. They control the banking system, the monetary system, the criminal justice system, and the military system. However, they have no control of people who want to right the wrongs inflicked upon Tangata Whenua . To the Urewera 5, I salute and honor their courage. Ka Whaiwhai Tonu Matou ake ake ake! Ku’e Mau loa ame Wa huli Kakou

  6. Its okay for neo-nazis in the “wilds” of canterbury to film their activities playing silly buggers with guns with mark ellis… but not for tuhoe on their own property to play silly buggers with guns? Maybe the crown dismissed the neo-nazis because they’d end up shooting each other?… I think the Crown decided to proceed with this travesty of trial because they didnt want to be seen as playing silly buggers with unworkable legislation? It takes a big person to say… man I fucked up…

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