Ruatoria checkpoint worker feels let down by police decision

By Taroi Black

Ngati Porou locals have queried 12,125 vehicles since Level 4 alert was placed nationwide. Checkpoints operated on the coast pleaded for police support but has 'failed to eventuate'.

This follows two new cases carrying COVID-19 which now makes up 3 cases in Tairawhiti. However, Tui Warmenhoven one of the six leading co-ordinators in Ruatoria is disappointed with the decision to stand down and stay home. 

"Given that the vulnerability of our east coast communities I feel like we’ve been let down and we’ve been forgotten," Warmenhoven says. 

Community leaders had band together to set checkpoints up throughout the coast following Te Whanau ā Apanui decision to close their iwi borders. This comes as iwi mana whenua work together to prevent the transmission of COVID-19, that history could repeat itself as it did during the early 1900's of the flu epidemic. 

Given the limited health resources provided on the coast, locals had urged outsiders to keep out of their iwi borders. 

Checkpoints were set up in Uawa - Te Aitanga a Hauiti, Tokomaru Bay, Ruatoria, Te Araroa and Wharekahika. 

In the checkpoint summary report leading co-ordinators had identified the Police Commissioner explaining that East Coast-Tairawhiti has enough police to meet the needs of mana whenua. 

However, locals throughout the coast claim there's been very little presence of police monitoring their region 24/7 compared to Gisborne.   

Wharekahika leading co-ordinator Tina Ngata says, "We urgently call for police checkpoints to be established in Ngāti Porou. For the Crown to have withheld available support in this context is an egregious abrogation of police responsibility to keep our communities safe.

"Our own networks in Wellington have been led to believe that the East Coast has 'more than enough' support as it is, have been advised by police to close down. However, locals leading them disagree with the call. They claim there has been minimal police supporting their efforts during lockdown to keep their vulnerable communities safe."

Māori Labour MP for Te Ikaroa Rawhiti Meka Whaitiri told Te Ao Maori News the checkpoints have been helpful in regards to the amount of people travelling in and out during the Level 4 lockdown period. 

"The feedback has been very useful in terms of the information at these checkpoints have been able to gleam. IE, that most of those travelling in our regions are actually our locals. So, there’s been a huge campaign not only to keep our communities safe but also to educate our locals around going down to the shop 10 times a day to grab items is probably not ideal," Whaitiri says. 

Local commander Sam Aperahama explained they don't condone checkpoints and their following the guidelines closely given by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for whanau to stay home. 

However before the lockdown had occurred, iwi chairs of Tairawhiti and Gisborne District Council mayor Rehette Stoltz had sent a letter to the PM to deploy military into the region to assist them during this period. 

Ruatoria spokesperson Tui Warmenhoven concludes, "The state cannot be fully dependent on although there is good work and maybe good intentions. What actually happens and what is intended by the police, the Ministry of Health and other government agencies are not the same thing here in Ngāti Porou."