Covid-19: Remote communities in Far North want checkpoints to remain in level 2

9:33 am on 13 May 2020

Checkpoints in Te Whānau a Apanui and on the East Coast will end today as the country prepares to move to level 2 - but two remote communities in the Far North want to keep their patrols going.

Iwi checkpoints were operating in the Far North on the night before the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown.

Iwi checkpoints were operating in the Far North on the night before the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown in March 2020. Photo: RNZ / Talei Anderson

Rueben Taipari is the regional coordinator for Te Tai Tokerau border control, which manages 15 checkpoints across the region.

While most had agreed to abide by level 2 rules, kaumātua and kuia in the towns of Pawarenga and Panguru wanted the checkpoints to keep running, he said.

"Many have decided and chosen to stand down and standby to see how level 2 rolls out, but there is still many in our very isolated areas, and their memories of the Spanish flu and how it affected those areas, like Panguru, Pawarenga ... where they had no support whatsoever, they still feel that we should continue the checkpoints," Taipari said.

"The call should come from the communities, and most importantly from our leaders of our iwi and hapū in those local communities."

He said that the reduction of drugs entering in the region, was a positive side effect of the border control, as well as local Māori being able exercise their own mana motuhake.

Meanwhile, the hapū chairs of Te Whānau a Apanui have unanimously decided to end their checkpoints, which have been in place since 25 March.

The community safety zone at Pōtikirua ended with a karakia this morning, with the Hāwai checkpoint to be lifted at midday.

The region has not had a single case of Covid-19, which Ōpotiki Mayor Lyn Riesterer has credited to the checkpoints.

Hapū chair Rawiri Waititi said they now felt safe to open up their region's borders again.

"Te Whānau a Apanui have just maintained what we believe is the safest level for us, and now we believe it's time for us to lift our community safety zones, and our border zones and allow our whānau to continue the good work they've been doing in terms of keeping themselves safe."

He said his iwi, the council, and police together showed the benefits of devolving of power to local communities.

Eastern Bay of Plenty acting area commander Stuart Nightingale said the community safety zones - which had provided additional protection to the remote and vulnerable community - had "clearly achieved what they set out to do."

"Community policing means working in partnership and building solutions to problems in conjunction with the communities we serve," Nightingale said.

"I don't want Te Whānau a Apanui to feel abandoned as we move down the national alert levels and I am also confident that the relationships we have built through the Covid-19 response will continue into the future."

On the East Coast, checkpoints on State Highway 35 run by volunteers from hapū of Ngāti Porou, alongside police, also ended with karakia this morning.

However, Tina Ngata, who has been leading the checkpoints, said there would still be measures in place to control movements in the region.

"It's probably going to take a slightly different form, because for us it's probably more around using our relationship with police and having them call in to see us very regularly, asking if there's been any interesting developments within the community that we might need them to look into."

Ngata said police would continue to do patrols and roam checkpoints, with the eight extra police brought into the region to help with the rāhui to remain.

"For me, it's the closest to the Treaty relationship that I've seen from police in my experience yet, they're taking guidance from the local communities and accepting that we know our communities best and looking at how we can work together."

She wanted to see this power sharing between iwi, hapū and police to continue - which could look like Māori policing their own communities, similar to how Māori Wardens work.

In a statement, a police spokesperson said while checkpoints were no longer required, they would continue to work with community and iwi leaders to provide support and reassurance under alert level 2.

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