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Calm After The Storm In Ruatoki

Calm After The Storm In Ruatoki
Pictures By Joseph Barratt
Story By Joseph Barratt And Spike Mountjoy

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As two Pakeha men travelling into the predominately Tuhoe community of Ruatoki, an area with a history of rejecting Pakeha politics, we were unsure how we would be received.

When we stopped to look around, or take photos, passing cars would stop and people would ask us who we were, and what we were doing.

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One resident laughed in agreement when we asked if the first invasion was the police, and the second the journalists.

The people we spoke to were cautious but welcoming.

However they were unwilling to go on the record, or have their photos taken.

They said the raids had brought a lot of fear, and anger, to the close-knit community.

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We heard how virtually everyone was treated as a suspect, cars were pulled over, and people were ordered out to have their photos taken.

We heard how "ninja cops" dressed in black searched homes and kicked in doors.

And how residents were still wondering who was going to pay for the damage.

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There is only one road into Ruatoki, turn off at Taneatua – it was easy for the police to seal off the town.

People could not travel out of the valley for work, and outsiders could not travel in.

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In some ways Ruatoki is similar to parts of the Far North or the East Cape.

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Small herds of horses wandered the main street, a few sleepy dogs casually sized us up, and a family of pigs went about their business on the roadside.

We drove up the valley as far as we could, the road ends where the river cuts across its path.

Apparently there’s another Tuhoe community four hour’s horse trek up the river.

A Ruatoki local we spoke to referred to them affectionately as hillbillies.

Heading back down the main street as school finished there were kids riding horses bareback along the side of the road, others were walking bare foot.

The school bus flew a banner proclaiming “Tuhoe and proud”.

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Te Hakituatahi - the flag of the confederation of chiefs of the United Tribes of New Zealand, first flown in 1834.

Many see the recent police action as just one in a long list of aggressive actions by the state towards the Tuhoe people.

In Wellington yesterday Tuhoe elder Te Weeti Tihi addressed the crowd.

“The police will be you friends today and arrest you tomorrow.”

“We will be telling our children, and our children’s children, to never forget what they have done to Tuhoe.”


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