Six years ago on October 15th 2007, the New Zealand police flexed their authority in a nationwide sweep on supposed ‘terrorists.’ Later known as Operation 8, the raids arrested an initial 17 in which 4 of them – Tame Iti, Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara, Emily Bailey and Urs Signer – were later vilified as the ‘Urewera Four’. What was propagated by the police as an attack on radical terrorists would turn out to be one of the worst colonial injustices in New Zealand since Bastion Point in 1978. Indeed, although the arrested 17 weren’t all Māori, it was the Police treatment of the Ruātoki community as well as mainstream media’s portrayal of an indigenous terrorist training camp, which silhouetted Operation 8 as a racist anti-Māori attack by the New Zealand police (not to mention the government too).
As New Zealand history reveals, it has been the armed forces of the New Zealand law who have been the terrorists, not Māori. The police (namely the Armed Defenders Squad) erected roadblocks around Ruātoki (terrorizing school kids on a bus); stormed into houses like the community were housing Osama Bin Laden; held women and elders at gun point; and of course tried to fabricate evidence and change the law to label their actions as just. If this ‘assault on terror’ had nothing to do with making sure Māori protesters towed the line, and if it was a nationwide sweep on a range of lefty activists; why was it that the other people and communities that were ‘raided’ experienced nowhere near the same police intensity as the people in Ruātoki?
I write this blog not as an angry indigenous writer wanting to dig up the past and label the New Zealand police as unjust, biased and a means unto themselves (they do that all on their own). No, I write this to voice on the 6th anniversary of Operation 8 that New Zealand should remember October 15th. Not in a way that politically divides our nation into adversarial teams as to who the real terrorists were. But to remember…that in the 21st century…colonial vestiges and monocultural norms shape New Zealand society. These norms justified the different police ‘treatment’ given to the people of Ruātoki as opposed to the other people who were raided. These norms continue to paint Māori either as a Police 10/7 criminal or a welfare bum; as someone who bashes their kids or a terrorist wanting to assassinate the Prime Minister.
On October 15th I will remember police terrorism in Ruātoki. Terrorism that was so blatantly justified, yet so obviously a breach of human rights.