It seems just a phone call from this fellow is enough to get your flat ransacked by the police. At least two New Zealand artists have experienced state intimidation, confiscation of their property, and criminal charges for their association with Tuhoe and Maori activist Tame Iti.
In a coordinated series of raids in October, Tame Iti and 16 others were arrested and detained by state agents. Ite has come to the attention of state authorities as a high-profile advocate for an independent Maori state. He gained notoriety for baring his butt at public officials at the Waitangi Tribunal, the official treaty resolution process in New Zealand, and for shot-gunning a New Zealand flag. Ite travels in many circles, counting among his acquaintances wealthy art patron Jenny Gibbs and millionaire car-dealer John Murphy, while also co-hosting a television program for emotionally distraught Maori boys on Maori TV, and running sessions for adults with drug and alcohol problems through the Tuhoe Hauora health trust.
Ite is accused under anti-terrorism laws of operating military-style training camps in the Northern Highlands of New Zealand. He is accused of preparing some kind of large-scale event with environmental activists.
The two artists who were targeted in the October raids were Marama Mayrick and Gordon Toi. Mayrick was arrested and imprisoned for eight weeks. She is an artist, environmentalist, activist, student and filmmaker. She is accused of participating in a Tuhoe training camp. Iti is a long-time family friend of her parents. The arrest came just before an exhibition of her artwork was to open at a La Commune Cafe in Hamilton, NZ. The exhibition was renamed Orchids Under Surveillance and, shortly after her release from prison, opened earlier this month.
Gordon Toi had his tools and computer equipment seized during a raid on his home. He a prominent actor, carver, author and tattooist. Police kept his equipment for more than a month, only returning it after receiving a letter from his lawyer. The raid on Toi’s home was in response to a text message he received from Tame Iti inviting him to a weekend camp – an invitation he says he declined. Toi met Tame Ite as a tattoo client (other of Toi’s high-profile clients include American musician Ben Harper). Toi has a studio in Amsterdam, and regularly exhibits in Canada.
Despite gains made in coming to terms with the legacy of colonial violence, First Nations in New Zealand still suffer disproportionately. They make up about 15% of the population, but represent 40% of all convictions, and 50% of the prison population. Average household income among the Maori is 70% less than the national average. Life expectancy among Maori is 10 years lower than non-Maori.
No one is sure whether or not any of the charges against Ite and the others have evidence to back them (nor would it be the first time a state security agency has acted more on paranoia than fact). But the raids and arrests have heightened an already tense situation between aboriginal and non-aboriginal populations in the country. New Zealand is quietly and tensely waiting to see what laundry will get aired when the charges finally make it to court.