A South Taranaki iwi is demanding Department of Corrections boss Ray Smith resign over his part in the removal of a Black Power member from his role as kaiwhakamana for prisons.
Ngapari Nui, who has volunteered in prisons for five years, was stood down yesterday after his gang affiliations were pointed out to Corrections Minister Judith Collins.
Corrections National Commissioner Jeremy Lightfoot met with Mr Nui and the iwi that nominated him, Ngāti Ruanui, at a hui attended by about 200 people in Hawera today.
Iwi kaiarataki Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said it was shameful the department's chief executive had dispatched a commissioner rather than shown up himself.
Mr Smith needed to take responsibility for the way in which Mr Nui was removed, given that he had appointed Mr Nui into his role as kaiwhakamana, she said.
"Ray Smith who signed this off hasn't done his due diligence or whatever he's saying, and there was unanimous support to ask for him to stand down and for him to be suspended pending a review," she said.
"If our taonga has to be suspended so should Ray Smith, who signed it off."
Ngāti Ruanui was deeply offended there was no discussion with it in advance of decisions being made about Mr Nui's position, Ms Ngarewa-Packer said.
"A bunch of do-gooders in Sensible Sentencing have used their lobbying position to now affect and tell iwi what to do and tell the Treaty [of Waitangi] partner what to do, and that's where the level of engagement is happening with the Crown and Sensible Sentencing.
"And the minister has been straight-out arrogant in refusing to meet with the treaty partner and iwi."
Corrections was out of touch with those on the ground who dealt with those who entered and left the prison system, she said.
"Ngāti Ruanui and those like Ngapari Nui are the ones that make rehabilitation a reality. Throwing away the last 10 years of hard and dedicated work is just a huge slap in the face for the iwi of Ngāti Ruanui and Ngapari," Ms Ngarewa-Packer said.
Mr Nui had been helping whānau in prison for a long time prior to his appointment as kaiwhakamana, and hundreds of people turned up to today's meeting because they recognised and valued his work, she said.
"They've come here because they recognise the years of dedication he's done for our whānau who aren't getting support from the government.
"He's tried to make a real impact based on his experience first-hand."
The iwi is calling for an independent review of Mr Nui's removal and an apology from the minister.
Gangs have no place in prisons - Collins
Ms Collins, however, said the only place for gang members in prison was behind bars, not doing volunteer work.
"As for Mr Nui and anyone else volunteering in our prisons, there's a very simple solution - choose the gang or choose the people," she told Checkpoint.
The gang population in prisons had increased from 15 percent eight years ago to about 30 percent today, she said. Close to 50 percent of youths under 19 in prisons had gang affiliations.
"In 2014, the prime minister announced this government's Gang Action Plan for the very reason that gangs are a major problem in our prisons and a major problem in our communities," Ms Collins said.
"We need to have principles applied to this, which is why Corrections is undertaking a review."
Corrections was reviewing all its volunteers to see whether they had gang affiliations, she said.
When asked if Mr Nui had a criminal past, Ms Collins said she knew "quite a lot" about his past, but would not comment further.
Former Māori Party leader Tariana Turia knew Mr Nui well, she said. He lived with his extended family and was "alcohol, drug and violence free". He hadn't been in trouble for almost 30 years.
"He is a wonderful man. He exemplifies what I would call whanau ora in practice," Ms Turia said.
"He goes house to house in Hawera supporting those most organisations would have trouble accessing. He is just the greatest guy."