DOC staff get death threats over GPS use
Armed police descended on a tiny island off the Tauranga coast after a man threatened to kill conservation workers he said were stealing the island's secrets.
Maori land rights activist Anthony Jackson confronted a Department of Conservation worker on Motiti Island about two weeks after the cargo ship Rena foundered on nearby Astrolabe reef.
The Sunday Star-Times understands Jackson was angry the worker was using GPS, a technology which iwi wanted banned from Motiti after they claimed DOC staff were using it to log special places on the island.
Jackson threatened to kill the worker if he advanced further inland.
Three police with guns were sent to the island by helicopter to attempt to apprehend Jackson, whom they said was breaching bail conditions by being there.
Inspector Karl Wright-St Clair of the Tauranga police said Jackson was not taken back to the mainland but left the island early the next day of his own volition and attended court voluntarily.
Jackson was found guilty in a defended hearing of threatening to kill and sentenced to community service.
Motiti Island, which has two marae and a large avocado orchard, is home to about 30 Maori and Pakeha.
Patuwai ki Motiti spokesman Matahihira Wikeepa said GPS was not wanted on the island because it was a very private place and locals were upset when they found workers using it.
"Two to three weeks after the boat hit rocks we had DOC there," Wikeepa said. "We had volunteers every day on the island. We had tangata whenua taking them down to make sure they were doing their job, cleaning beaches, but nothing else.
"One of them said DOC was GPS-ing our taonga. They are very private. Very few people know about them. So we put the message back that we didn't want [GPS]."
Wikeepa said the taonga include places so secret he couldn't even talk about them. "It was me that started the whole process. I sent the message to Tauranga to the ICC [Incident Control Centre] but instead they got the message I didn't want DOC at all.
"So DOC stopped coming. But we still wanted the wildlife team. There was no way we wanted them off the island [altogether]."
Wikeepa said iwi still didn't know why DOC staff were using GPS, but DOC area manager Andrew Baucke said it was to mark penguin burrows and he had taken the iwi's wishes on board.
But Wikeepa said that had nothing to do with Jackson's behaviour. "We want nothing to do with that," he said.
In his defence, Jackson said the Rena grounding had been very unsettling for those on the island.
"Any sense of normalcy as we knew it has been shattered," he said. "This incident has been like an intruder who has made its presence known in a very boisterous and ill-mannered way."
Baucke said while he was always concerned when his staff were threatened, police dealt with the incident well. He understood Jackson hadn't realised why the staff were there and why they needed to check certain parts of the island.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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