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Presbyterian leaders dismayed about police terror raids

On the heels of the police’s anti-terrorism raids last month, the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand (PCANZ) raised its concerns about their impact on the affected communities and on Maori-Pakeha relations.

The issue is particularly sensitive to New Zealand Presbyterians because their church has a historic partnership with the Tuhoe people, which began with the mission of Rev John Laughton in the early 1920s. Recently the PCANZ cemented that partnership by restoring the land used in that mission to the local hapu.

In a letter to minister of police Annette King, PCANZ moderator Rt Rev Pamela Tankersley wrote the Church is deeply concerned about the reports of the police operation.

“Our local ministers in Ruatoki are working hard to give pastoral care to traumatised residents who have been caught up in this operation.

“In no way does the Presbyterian Church support the use of arms or violence as a means to further political objectives, and we have no way of knowing the specific details about those currently held.

“Our concern is that this police operation has affected the entire community and has the potential to inflame tension with Maori. We ask that you investigate this matter carefully seeking independent advice on the wider ramifications of the police actions,” Pamela wrote.

Rev Wayne Te Kaawa is Tuhoe and a minister in the PCANZ’s Maori synod, Te Aka Puaho. In an open letter to the Church, Wayne wrote the events of October 15th were nothing new to the Tuhoe people.

“In the mid to late 1800s colonial forces invaded the Urewera searching for the religious leader Te Kooti. They employed the scorched earth policy that forced Tuhoe into starvation and subsequently confiscated much of their lands.

“In 1916 the Urewera was again invaded by armed police who shot and killed two people while arresting the Tuhoe religious leader Rua Kenana. Growing up in Tuhoe country as children we would often hear stories of those times. Now our children will grow up telling stories of when armed police invaded the Tuhoe Nation in 2007 and held guns frightening children and old people.

“These atrocities and terrorists acts by the police and the Government upon Tuhoe sovereignty must stop.”

Wayne says his reaction to the events is shaped by the fact one of those killed in the 1916 invasion was his grandmother’s husband, Toko, a son of Rua Kenana.

“For me personally it was like reliving 1916 over again, and, to be honest, I was waiting for someone to be killed and go through what my father had to endure in 1916.

“If this had to be done it could have been done better. Why were the police’s Maori iwi liason people kept in the dark?”

Wayne says Rev John Wharekotuku Thrupp and his wife Honey Thrupp of Ruatoki were providing pastoral care and leadership to their people after the raids. They reported there was sense of anger and hurt amongst the people of the valley. Innocent people were held at gun point, children were frightened by police with guns, and children were stranded by police arresting their parents.

He encourages Church people to write the Prime Minister Helen Clark and Minister of Police and register their disapproval of the events in Ruatoki. And he asks that people pray for the Church’s ministry and mission to the Tuhoe people and for justice to prevail.