23 Mar 2020

More iwi consider closing tribal borders amid Covid-19 outbreak

10:31 am on 23 March 2020

More iwi are planning to close their tribal borders in the fight against Covid-19, despite warnings from police doing so is illegal.

Iwi leader Willie Te Aho

Willie Te Aho said plans were already in place to block the borders of Te Whānau ā Apanui's rohe. Photo: RNZ

In an extraordinary move, Eastern Bay of Plenty iwi Te Whānau ā Apanui announced on the weekend it would not let outsiders, including tourists, inside the rohe from Wednesday.

Iwi leader Willie Te Aho said plans were already in place to block the borders, and operate a permit system for residents.

"There will be a permit system and a sticker system," he said.

"The permit system will be for residents and people who go in and out for work. We will be deterring people from coming in to our area who are non-residents unless they are there for essential work that needs to be done."

Workers who will be allowed to enter the rohe will include kiwifruit pickers.

Te Whānau ā Apanui has since met with police and the Ōpōtiki District Council to come up with a collective approach to mitigate the risk for the community.

RNZ understands options will be discussed at another hui today.

Meanwhile, Far North iwi Ngāti Kahu is also considering closing the borders surrounding some of its isolated hapū along the Karikari peninsula, where state highways will not be disturbed.

Chief executive Anahera Herbert-Graves said she admired Te Whānau ā Apanui for making the move first.

"We are full of admiration for Te Whānau ā Apanui, and I expect nothing less from them. We admire it, but for Ngāti Kahu it is a different situation and we have a different geography so it's more difficult for us.

"To control and limit the borders of our main areas like our whanaunga are we would need to rely on our neighbouring iwi, including Ngāpuhi, to block their borders as well."

"I am aware that some of our more isolated hapū, especially those with one road in and one road out, they are considering this and of course we will support them to the absolute maximum if they decide to take that option," she said.

Read more about the Covid-19 coronavirus:

Labour MP Willie Jackson said he understood why iwi might want to take matters into their own hands, but he urged them to reach out to the government.

"I understand what's happening there but I think, just work in with us on that because of course we have to look after our kaumātua and kuia but let's try and work alongside government in doing that and not just go on our own."

Māori communities on the East Coast, led by indigenous activist Tina Ngata, are also planning to set up a checkpoint at Te Araroa, and Wharekahika.

Te Puna Manaaki, a Ruataupare community centre, has put a call out on social media seeking 28 volunteers to man the borders, and instruct overseas tourists who have arrived here within 14 days to turn around and self-isolate.

But Selwyn Parata, the chair of East Coast iwi Ngāti Porou, had a word of warning for his people wanting to block the state highway into the rohe.

"I certainly understand the concerns that underlay those proposals, and for other iwi," he said.

"My understanding, however, is that the only organisations with powers to conduct and authorise closures or checkpoints on the state highways are New Zealand Police, the New Zealand Transport Authority and the local council."

Parata is urging people from Ngāti Porou to remain calm, maintain a safe personal space and, above all, be kind to one another.

  • If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs)

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