“There’s a helicopter’s floating above and I think your brother and your dad have been arrested."
Those were the words from Ati Teepa’s aunty on the morning of 15 October 2007 when she called from her home in Ruātoki.
Ati was working in Ngaruawahia at the time, he learned that police were raiding his home in Taupo. His partner, their baby and her family were inside.
Early in the morning, the Armed Offenders Squad executed 41 police raids at various locations around the country.
After a year-long police investigation, they alleged military-style training camps were operating in the Te Urewera ranges.
Back in Ngaruawāhia, Ati launched into damage control mode.
He handed himself to the police and the officer wasn’t too sure what to do. He phoned his lawyer, who was surprised he had turned himself in.
“You’re kind of in limbo. I didn’t know what to do… The local cop didn’t know what to do… So I just walked back to the marae. That was partly because I didn’t want to bring the heat to the marae where I was working at the time.”
Of the seventeen arrested during the raids, four were charged with firearms offences.
Ati now lives in Wellington and says a decade on there are still unresolved issues for him.
“It’s been a long time, even before the raids, there has been a whole lot of mistrust, not just in Tuhoe but in Māori communities in general, there’s always been a mistrust of the police the agents of the state and I think that experience probably just kind of cements it for a new generation of kids to have fear and mistrust”
A series of home visits were organised by Police to personally apologise to families who had their homes raided.
“Our whanau chose to not participate in that process, we didn’t want them to come to our fathers home, we didn’t want to meet with them, we didn’t want to be part of what I cynically see as a public relations exercise where they were coming cap in hand to seek forgiveness from Tuhoe.”
Ati showed some of his artwork Ngakau Hihiko at Taneatua Gallery in 2015.
He said that ten years on he feels inspired to create new work from his cynicism of the Tuhoe raids there have been some positives.
“To see such a strong network of solidarity build up for such a terrible kaupapa was actually quite heartening, I saw a lot of people not even related to anything Tuhoe or activist related, they just knew that something terrible happened, so that was heartening, I built life-long friendships”.
Before Tame Iti jets off to Jakarta with his Chinese business colleagues, he has planned a series of media interviews on a Monday morning.
Moumou Kai Café inside Te Kura Whare is the meeting spot and Tame is waiting for his mate and Māori Party candidate Wetex Pang to talk business.
Tame describes himself as the Taniwha working alongside the dragon, referencing his Chinese business colleagues.
“There’s a few ideas I won’t talk about now because it has to go back to the people. From a tribal point of view we’ve got to look at the potential what we have here, we’re sitting on a goldmine, Urewera is a goldmine.”
When it comes to the Tuhoe Raids he’s clearly moved on.
“I don’t really want to go back to that, I don’t want to explain myself, very simple, moving on you let go of something, it happens, we’ve done that, we talked about, we had a long conversation about it, we’ve done that”.
Iti was sentenced to 30 months imprisonment. He served nine months and was released in 2013.
In 2014 Te Rewarewa Marae hosted Police Commissioner Mike Bush and 90 Police officers to apologise to the people of Tuhoe for the conduct of the Police during Operation 8.
Since 2004 Assistant Commissioner Māori Wallace Haumaha, the General Manager of Māori Pacific and ethnic services, oversaw the reconciliation initiatives between Tuhoe and the NZ Police.
“We undertook a rigorous programme of trying to restore the confidence and the trust and re-building of the relationship between Tuhoe and the police and it was important to us, not only as Māori police officers but for the organisation overall.”
In 2015, NZ Police organised a trip for eighty Tuhoe school to Wellington.
A decade on and Haumaha is excited to launch an initiative where NZ Police will work closely with Tuhoe Iwi.
It will involve Tuhoe people sitting on a panel made up of community members, the panel will get referrals from the police for offenders who have committed offences for less than six months imprisonment.
Rather than being prosecuted, the Police will use their common law right of discretion to move those referrals to the Rūnanga, and the Rūnanga will then wrap around the services to look at the behavioural change and look at reducing offending. We’re about to launch that project with the Tuhoe People” said Haumaha.
In September this year, an initiative to help troubled youth in the Eastern Bay of Plenty area picked up the Supreme Award at this year’s Evidence Based Problem Oriented Policing (EBPOP) awards.
Police in the area and Tuhoe Hauora established the programme Oho Ake, to help link up young people with their Māori culture.
Tuhoe have undergone a transformation in the past ten years.
They signed their Treaty Settlement in 2013, Te Urewera Act 2014 acknowledged Te Urewera ranges as its own entity and this year Te Kura Whare in Taneatua was officially certified as a Living Building. It is one of seventeen eco-friendly structures in the world to acquire the status.
At the helm is Tuhoe Leader Tamati Kruger who reflects upon the decade since the Tuhoe Raids.
“I think for all of New Zealand it was a complete shock as to what had transpired and disbelief that the accusations of terror cells operating within in NZ with the view of assassinating political figures and blowing up government buildings… was just unbelievable to people, but it was believed by some politicians on the basis of the Police Commissioner putting forward what he saw as reliable intelligence.”
Moving forward for Tuhoe has meant that the iwi have undertaken their own Mana Motuhake (self-determination) towards reconciliation.
“When you claim to have mana motuhake that you can resolve your own issues and bring some reliable conclusion, so there are no ghosts hanging around…so here we talking ten years after that episode and that reconciliation is sustainable and reliable between ourselves and the police.”