18 Nov 2021

'Send body bags' - Northland iwi collective warns over reopening

From Checkpoint, 5:10 pm on 18 November 2021

"Send body bags" - that's the message from iwi in the north if the government pushes ahead with plans to open the Auckland border. 

This audio is not downloadable due to copyright restrictions.

The collective wants the gateway to te tai tokerau to stay locked to outsiders right until Māori specficially are 90 percent double dosed in both Tāmaki Makaurau and Northland.

Aucklanders who are double vaccinated or who have had a recent negative Covid-19 test will be able to travel out of the city from 15 December.

The government says police will work with iwi to ensure people can move, but also to maintain confidence in the checks that are in place. 

But a collective of iwi in the North say they will not allow te tai tokerau become collateral damage. 

Haami Piripi is in Northland iwi collective Te Kahu o Taonui. As a Te Rarawa representative, he told Checkpoint the suggestion to "send body bags" to Northland if the Auckland border reopened was based on what the science was saying about the Covid-19 Delta variant.

Haami said the "principle of our objection" to reopening the Auckland border to Northland was ignored by the Ministry of Health.

They were racing to bring the Māori vaccination rate up to 90 percent double-dosed, but were being thwarted by issues like not being given data on unvaccinated Māori by the Ministry of Health.

"We've always been told to follow the science and we've really sort of religiously stuck to that. And the science has really led us to this point of feeling like our people in the north are backed into a corner by the spread of the virus.

"As the government changes its strategies and approaches, what's happened is our defences have become less and less and now, our last defense which is vaccination, is going to be negated by an opening of the borders, which is going to allow a massive influx of people into our region, which is going to have the inevitable result of bringing in the virus with it. 

"While we're not vaccinated, we're in extreme danger."

Border checkpoint in the far north

A checkpoint in the far north. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Iwi in the north were consulted on the Auckland border reopening and advised what was intended - but never asked for approval.

"Our advice was to hold on and wait longer if we can wait longer, but I guess that was weighed up against I don't know, national interest or something, but that really made us realise that we're not really a influential factor."

Northern iwi advised waiting until Māori in Tāmaki and te tai tokerau were 90 percent double vaccinated.

"We just going as fast as we possibly can, as we speak, to get as many as we can vaccinated, and it's not an easy task anymore. It's not just a question of giving somebody an injection. 

"The people we're dealing with now, in terms of vaccinations are people who have had sort of lifelong histories of not pleasant experiences in relation to so the government interventions.
"This is a medical intervention in their lives ... it's something that requires the legitimacy of purpose to be established in the minds and lives of our people in order for them to accept it. And that's what we have to really work on. 

"So it's not just a question of saying, 'here's a needle sticking in your arm'. This is a question of people understanding the legitimacy of the purpose and committing themselves to making a life decision.

"These are people who are economically and socially economically deprived ... They live in a sea of disparities. We've been colonised in the far north since 1814. So we've had massive magnitude of land loss, alienated from our economy and now we are asking people in the far flung corners of rural communities to trust us ... so there's a lot of work to do to, to convince our people of the legitimacy of vaccination."