Would we take a softly, softly approach if Gloriavale was a Māori community?

Campbell Live’s activist journalism has thrown a spotlight on the West Coast Christian community of Gloriavale. Anchored by the courage of Julia to tell a tragic and painful story and followed by the telling testimony of other ex-members, the claims are disturbing and myriad. The claims to date have included: bullying (particularly of young women); starvation; isolation for extended periods; physical punishment and assault; sexual assault and abuse; child sex abuse; benefit fraud; and indentured labour.

In response, last week the Police paid a “social visit” to Gloriavale after calling for ex-members to come forward with complaints. After the visit, Area Commander Canning commented it appeared to be “business as usual” at Gloriavale and Tasman District Commander Malthus said that whilst they were aware of  “certain allegations,” they wanted to “fully understand what these mean”. Meanwhile on Seven Sharp, clearly concerned they were losing the ratings war on this one, they did what can only be described as a puff piece with their two substantial interviews being a wide-eyed sychophant and part of the problem Fervent Stedfast.

Which all amounts to… not very much at all and lead my wife to ask this question: what if Gloriavale was a Māori community?

Imagine if you will a Māori community with leaders who feel they have heard from god and whose word is regarded as divine revelation. It’s run along values that include prescribed and gendered roles for men and women. The leaders speak frequently against the society outside the community and present themselves as a special people who have been set apart and chosen. They run a strict form of Māori justice that includes physical discipline, exclusion and community humiliation. They practice polygamy in family relationships and regularly marry their girls to older men of the community at the time they have their first period. All resources including money are pooled under the financial direction of the leaders; they also have their members apply for benefits and pool those benefits as part of those resources. There have been accusations of sexual and physical abuse from people who have left the community, and they all had to leave in secret. Due to public interest, the community has shut off the roads to their village and will not allow media or scrutiny unless it is through their leadership.

Imagine such a Māori community existed, and then answer this question: would the Police and media actions be to wait for members of that community to make complaints? Thankfully we don’t need to speculate about such a situation as they are well recorded in our national history.

The small Taranaki settlement of Parihaka was founded in 1866 by Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kakahi and grew to 2,000 people by the 1880s, Māori from a variety of iwi throughout Aotearoa New Zealand. The village was carefully planned and run, with more modern infrastructure than many other towns and cities in the country in that period. The men and women of the village produced enough food to feed themselves and at times sell food to New Plymouth. The community was run on faith-based and non-violent principles, and government encroachment led to the celebrated Parihaka campaigns in which they ploughed settlers’ farmland and later erected fences across roadways to impress upon the government their continued right to occupy land that was being confiscated.

All of this culminated in an invasion by 1,600 troops and cavalry on 5 November 1881. The soldiers were greeted with hundreds of skipping and singing children and then offered freshly baked bread on the women. Te Whiti and Tohu were arrested and jailed for 16 months, 1,600 Parihaka inhabitants were expelled and dispersed throughout Taranaki without food or shelter and the remaining 600 residents were issued with government passes to control their movement. Soldiers burnt the crops, looted and destroyed most of the buildings, chopped and burnt down the bush around the village, and assaulted the remaining women.

The small prophetic community of Maungapohatu in the Urewera forest was founded by Rua Kenana in 1908. Rua was a prophet and land rights activist who offered a millennial yet also practical vision for his followers. Maungapohatu was a harsh environment to live in, but again it was run along forward thinking lines of traditional practices and modern advances, most obvious in the architecture and horticulture. Rua’s prophetic message gave meaning to the harsh existence and hope for the future. Rua spoke about power sharing types of government which they modeled in Maungapohatu, and during World War I was outspoken about not joining the war.

It was this agitation that was, in many ways, the final straw for the government of the day. Using an old and farcical charge of grog selling, on 2 April 1916 a large heavily armed police party arrived at Maungapohatu to arrest him. So as not to alert the Maungapohatu village of their intention to spring an attack they did not wear their police uniforms till just before the raid. They had convinced themselves that when they reached Maungapohatu there would be an ambush. There was no violent resistance from Rua, though he objected to his arrest. The approach of the Police ultimately led to a  gun battle with the police, and Rua went on to serve a year in prison, the community was financially ruined and Pākehā education and religion were quick to fill the place Rua left.

The events in the communities at Parihaka and Maungapohatu are two of the more well-known instances of the approach the authorities, particularly the Police, take to Māori communities seeking to live a life apart from the wider community based on their own beliefs and approach. Lest you consider it old history and irrelevant, the Police raids in Ruatoki on 15 October 2007 indicate the suspicion of Māori communities is alive and well in Wellington. Remember residents of a whole Māori community were held at gunpoint whilst the Police, flushed with their new ant-terrorist powers, searched for terrorists in the mist.

The Police and other authorities’ impotence in light of the claims in Gloriavale is a telling example of the privilege of being Pākehā in our Aotearoa New Zealand. The hand-wringing about due process, the need to follow the law and the desire to protect the rights of people to live in the way they choose are all laudable values; Gloriavale is an intractable mess in that sense. I am certainly not encouraging para-military or Police raids of the Gloriavale community, though I do think that any community established by a convicted child sex abuser should not be allowed to dictate the terms of engagement with agencies.

However I am highlighting an uncomfortable reality in our country. If claims about a Māori community included bullying, starvation, isolation for extended periods, physical punishment and assault, sexual assault and abuse, child sex abuse, benefit fraud, and indentured labour, do you really believe the Police Area Commander would have made a social visit?

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28 thoughts on “Would we take a softly, softly approach if Gloriavale was a Māori community?

  1. Why does everything have to be turned into a racial issue???? Why all this stirring up some stuff that happened a very long time ago – lets all just move on and make a better life for all Kiwis!! Living in the past and stirring up hatred between races is destructive for everyone!

    1. Kia ora Lyn, thanks for taking the time to comment. A few comments: it is probable not everything needs to be turned into a racial issue; but some situations serve as a useful touchstone for significant unresolved issues in our society such as race. Your view of a long time ago is, well, rather brief. Ours is a young country that still has an opportunity to avoid the worst excesses of racial division; but only if we talk about them. Racism, individual and corporate is alive and well in our little country, and pretending to ignore it is to be a party to it.

    2. Racial issue? The truth hurts aye? Maori have always been in the negative spotlight since you [redacted] came to our land. Pakeha privilege I say. Wehe atu koutou nga pakeha!!! WEHE ATU!!!

    3. My Great Grand father was alive during these eras. It just isn’t that long ago. I wonder if the holocaust will be remembered with such irreverence 18 years from now if time is the only factor for the importance and relevance of an historical event. I can not imagine that the holocaust and its lessons would no longer be valid in 2033, a mere 18 years from now. If that is so, why on earth would this be different? Is it because it was not as bad or horrific? After all, it was only a handful of natives that were causing trouble in the bush. They have cars now, thanks to colonisation!

      You called it hatred. It must seem like that from your side of the fence, after all, it seems that only some Maori’s are offended by these things from “long ago”. Funny that, the victims are the ones doing the squealing again! Bloody victims, why can’t they suffer in silence! Being saddened and offended by the differences in treatment between, dare I say it, races, is NOT hatred, it’s closer to a sense of offence. Wow, offended by discrimination! What has the world come to….

      It is ignorant comments like these that are the new face of racism. Indifference.

      I feel for you Lyn. You leave an example for your Great Grandchildren to ignore you, your life and its struggles. If this is what you have taught your children then your whānau will have no legacy within a century.

      But fortunately, you have absolutely no reason whatsoever to be offended by these comments. For as your very own logic dictates, it doesn’t offend you anymore; it’s in the past.

    4. Fact is Lyn, although you may like to look at this as ‘stirring up the past’ it doesn’t stop the fact that these were actual events that took place in our very own Nu Tireni. It is not destructive acknowledging this, it is learning that an agreement needs to be in place where non-Maori should be more educated as to what has happened, acknowledge it, and make an effort to look further into the Maori world. Once this has happened, THEN we may be able to move on

  2. I think the softly-softly approach shown to Gloriavale is more due to the $36.6m in assets they own and the $500k in trade work they bring to Greymouth rather than them being a Pākehā community.

    1. Kia ora James, that’s possible I think. Certainly there is a lot of resource in that community that must be important in a strapped West Coast economy. Nevertheless, I stand by my contention that were it a Māori community, that resource would not protect them from the involvement of agencies.

  3. You actually don’t have to look back as far as Parihaka or Maungapohatu…what about Tuhoe in recent times when spurious claims grew some legs and police trampled all over them? Maybe with their isolation and tactics Gloriavale has armed themselves in some way – remember Waco? Jonestown anyone? It’s not that big a stretch when you have fundamentalist idiots in charge

  4. Thank you for bringing a new perspective I had not yet considered on this issue. I have no doubt in my mind, due to past actions of the police and government, that had this been a Māori community, it would not be standing today. It is something I will be watching very closely.

    1. Thanks for the feedback Ariana. I’m also fascinated on what will actually happen after all these revelations.

  5. Ratana settlement also comes to mind that still thrives today. This article is well written and I like the contrast to our own history. There are aspects of communal living that I think are well worth the lifestyle but not to the extreme as presented in Glorivale where free choice is determined by manipulative power and control and hides abuse.

    1. Kia ora Geoffrey, thanks for the feedback and raising the positive example of Māori community that exists at Ratana Pā.

  6. How could this be a racial issue when she’s just stating a fact? If Gloriavale was a Maori group, the government would have sent in authorities as soon as they heard about what was happening? All the ex members that have spoken out have said what they needed to say. What pisses me off about this gloriavale saga is the fact that the ex members have stated child abuse and under age sex? Why haven’t they gone in! Protect our children! The next generation! Especially the girls! How f**ked up is all that crap and authorities are still “softly” proceeding with what ever the heck they’re doing!

  7. You can’t compare how things were done 130 years ago to how things are done today. That’s ridiculous.

    Also, you need actual evidence of these problems, not people making statements that may or may not be true. When the police get the evidence, then you will see the police move quickly.

    We are all pointing the finger at them when our communities are just as bad if not worse, full of drunken violence, child abuse and needless deaths.

    If more people were hard-working and productive like those crazy people in Gloriavale, then NZ would be much better off. Sure they don’t pay taxes and they do get support from the government, but they are mostly self sufficient and look after themselves and arent hurting anyone else but themselves.

    Having said that I would think the police would probably have invaded already.

    1. Kia ora Karl, thanks for taking the time to comment. A few people have commented about how long ago the Parihaka and Maungapohatu raids were. Ths is disingenuous as I suspect many of those making comments were commemorating Anzac Day two weeks ago; none of these events are really separated from us by any length of time – it was only my great-grandfather’s generation.

      Of course you are correct that the Police need evidence to act. Yet we’ve all heard from six ex-members who have talked about at least four instances of criminal and civil offending that happened to them: physical assault; child neglect; statutory rape; false declaration on an official document. The Police can choose to investigate on the basis of their suspicion a crime has occurred without a complaint. But they haven’t. Given the significant differences between Māori and non-Māori investigation, prosecution and sentencing rates for criminal offending, I am firmly convinced it would be different were it a Māori community.

      I don’t think the hard work or productivity of Gloriavale is an issue, but not paying taxes and getting financially supported on benefits on a fraudulent basis is an issue. Work and Income have a benefit fraud hotline yet have been silent on benefit fraud at Gloriavale that has been talked about openly in the media. Again, there are two standards at work here.

  8. I am a Maori and I get sick of hearing about Maori & Pakeha as separate people, we are all Kiwi’s and as time progresses I would hope we are more forward thinking on this. What happened in the past cannot be changed so stop living in the past, what happens now and in the future can be better for all Kiwi’s, lets all work together to make that better than the past.

    1. Kia ora Tracey. There’s an old adage from George Santayana that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. The attempt to create some kind of melting pot Kiwi identity is like plastering over rotten boards; take the time to replace the boards and you’ll have less problems later on. The past should be an education, but it’s one we’ve ignored and are actively repeating: the 2007 raids in Ruatoki; the shooting of Māori men by Police, particularly Steven Wallace; the higher prosecution, sentencing and imprisonment rates of Māori men; the imprisonment of Māori with mental health illnesses.

      Every time there’s a claim that there’s a “good reason” for what happened; but it adds up to the ongoing oppression of tāngata whenua and the enforcement of disparities in our communities. Māori and Pākehā are a separate people who share a country; the day we respect the differences and honour the commitments made in te Tiriti o Waitangi is the day we can all work together for the better future you long for.

    2. Well said Graham. I have been impressed with your measured responses to the comments here. Keep up the good work educating our people (Maori AND Pakeha)

  9. Less than impressed with your one sided views on this Graham. I don’t believe what gloriavale is doing is right but you are turning this into a race issue. They way you are going on ragging on the police and government is appalling. There are many races within both the government and the police yet you speak of them as tho they are a bunch of racist white people. Perhaps they have learnt from the raids in the past that you speak of and that is why they are treading more carefully with this issue to ensure justice. The 2 very early raids are outdated and yes part of history they can’t be used for comparisons on today’s civilisation. Times have changed in the last century. As for the 2007 raid, that backfired on law enforcement allowing people that should have been locked up to be set free on technicalities.

    1. I regret not impressing you Cole; in my defence, I was unaware of this expectation when writing down my own opinions.

      It seems to me you struggle to accept the reality of institutional racism. There are of course people of many ethnicities and cultures in the Police and government, but the institutions themselves are not multi-faceted. They are modeled on British institutions that enforce a colonising and assimilative world view that other ethnicities are required to play a role within, but cannot readily transform. People who attempt to transform those systems, such as Māori have for 175 years, are a threat to the system and treated as such. The 2007 raids were revealing in this sense; the people widely monitored by the Police and SIS were anyone – greenies, peace activists, social activists – who had a connection with Māori activists (very broadly, not just those in the Urewera) who have quite publicly sought to transform our politics and our society for many years. Change to the status quo is still unacceptable to a system that needs people to think it is immutable to maintain control.

      Part of maintaining control is to find a bogeyman: Māori continue to be that figure in our media and our politics. We’re the bogeyman because we have claim on the very sovereignty of this country; our sovereignty was never extinguished, a reality that is affronting to the Crown.

  10. fantastic article. Lyn your attitude torwards our history saddens me.In your ideal world who gets to pick what is relevant history? And why is only some of our history open to comparison and discussion?
    We have all just looked into some of our history this ANZAC day with a lot of coverage and symbolism. Not to mention money spent. You can’t pick and choose history it runs thru all of our blood.
    We need to make these comparisons if we truely want to change things and to leave our children a legacy of true equality. Not just assumed equality.

  11. Ngā mihi ki a koe, Graham,
    My impression was not that you had turned this into a “race issue”, but that you had used issues from the past that involved “race” (surely there’s no denying it) and had raised an important question: would the Gloriavale community have been treated differently if it was Māori? PROBABLY, YES.

    But if we take ethnicity out of the equation and ask ourselves, if Gloriavale was filled with Muslims, would something more than a social visit have been made by the police? PROBABLY, YES. Or, try this one: take your pick of any marginalised minority group in Aotearoa/New Zealand, chuck ‘em into Gloriavale, then ask yourselves would a softly, softly approach have been taken? PROBABLY, NOT.

    My take on this article was that Graham was simply trying to highlight the hypocrisy of the way Gloriavale has been dealt with by authorities and that more needs to be done to bring those responsible to justice. All he did was use issues involving Māori as examples. I still don’t see how that’s a “race issue”, I see Gloriavale as an issue all of us need to be very worried about and if examples from the past involving Māori are used to shed another light on the situation, then so be it. If it helps us to be more informed about our history and to be even more outraged in regards to Gloriavale, then cheers to Graham

    1. E mihi hoki ana tēnei ki a koe, Ngaire. Thanks for your thoughtful contribution and I’m glad the blog gave you some food for thought.

  12. With these communities that try to split them selves off and focus on religion and things many authorities are worried that it can end up like Jonestown which was similar to Gloriavale. Jonestown is recent and happened in 1978 where around 900 people died where they were order by their leader to commit suicide by poison or were shot buy the guards. This happened due to a social visit by a government official who was then killed by Jonestown’s guards at his plane when he went to leave. that visit made the Jones feel to pressured and he order the mass suicide/murder. Jones town was also a predominantly black community. This was also in the mid to late seventies where race relations was still a huge issue. Yet this softly, softly approach was taken to the minority class of the country that the residents were from that had a history of struggles caused by white dominance. which is similar to Maori in New Zealand history of struggles being caused by whites if not worse. I am not saying that the past issues of over strict policing of Maori communities in the past is not valid it is. if we look at the examples above i would say that the softly, softly approach would not be taken but looking at events of similar communities of historically mistreated religious minority communities in the mid to late 20th century would have a greater prediction of policing actions of today. And that looking at Jonestown and other similar cases would support the idea that a Maori religious community like Gloriavale today would get this softly, softly treatment to ensure the safety of the community members and that a situation like Jonestown doesn’t occur again.

    Also I like how your article is structured and evidence is compiled just at the end i’m trying to find a clear prediction of what police would do if the Gloriavale community was a predominantly Maori community

  13. Graham, I am very impressed with your commentary throughout this interactive media discourse. It is interesting that Gloriavale is alive and well in society at large whether in suburbia, in mansions, caravans, temporary lean-to and throughout the social and economic stratum of interactive coexistence no matter what ethnicity. Many household’s, businesses and relationships generally reflect elements of the Gloriavale environment either positively or negatively and I think the true Gloriavale is a wakeup call of just how capable we are of being constructive or destructive or both. The diverse opinions and reactions thus far in this blog, whether emotive or clinical, are a telling tale.

  14. I think that Māori (obviously) do still get treated differently… Hopefully that will change in the future, although there’s no harm in shedding light on this and talking about the different view points it’s quite sad that this is another example hypothetically speaking if it we’re Māori that inhabited this area. As the facts and examples are there, that we still get treaded less to this day… 😦

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