Revitalised Tame Iti released from incarceration

FREEDOM: Tuhoe activist Tame Iti shares a moment with his son Wairere Iti with grandson Te Rangimoaho, 7.
FREEDOM: Tuhoe activist Tame Iti shares a moment with his son Wairere Iti with grandson Te Rangimoaho, 7.

Tame Iti is sporting a new smile to go with his decreasing waistline after his early morning release from Waikeria Prison to a rousing reception from his whanau at the Rewi Maniapoto memorial in Kihikihi.

The Tuhoe activist and community leader was granted parole after serving nine months of a 30-month sentence for firearms offences following the arrest of 18 people in the 2007 "terror raids".

Mr Iti holds no bitterness for his time in jail, focusing on his art, working on his fitness and now sporting a full glowing set of teeth after receiving extensive dental work.

Speaking in Maori, he said the dental work was inexpensive and paid for from the proceeds of a commissioned artwork for the cover of New Zealand Geographic. His old teeth now adorn his new tokotoko (walking stick), carved by an inmate at the prison. He tweeted of his desire to enjoy a decent cappuccino and made his way to a Hamilton cafe for a sit-down before attending a kawe mate (memorial service) for his late mother, Te Inuwai Iti, at Hukanui Marae in Gordonton.

"Good colonial bad habits," he said of his preferred morning brew. "When you are in prison you have to wheel and deal how you're going to get that. They only supply you coffee and the good English cup of teas and that's about it."

Mr Iti has applied to the Supreme Court to appeal the High Court decision and his lawyer Russell Fairbrother said he is confident of their argument.

"I come here and I am a political prisoner. I am a political prisoner at large. I was a political prisoner of the state and I still remain until October 2014," Mr Iti said.

Flanked by his sons, Toi and Wairere, and supported by MP Te Ururoa Flavell and Mana Party leader Hone Harawira, Mr Iti spoke of the difficulty of life "inside". "There's a lot of booby traps and landmines in jail and we have to look out that I don't fall into the landmines. You have to learn all the tricks. It took four to five days to work out here I am. I had to look at how I am able to navigate myself with rapists, murderers, wannabe gangsters, and so I had to work out how to be productive and make my time productive."

Mr Iti will return to his home in Ruatoki after stopping in Rotorua to acknowledge the support of the Te Arawa people. He will continue to live off the land and teach bush craft. He said firearms were an intricate part of Tuhoe culture . "I live in Te Urewera where our food cupboard is pigs, a place to sleep, a place to pick pikopiko, we gather tuna. Of course, I will remain doing that to feed the whanau."

Wairere Iti said sentence was a small part of the six-year odyssey and more work remained to be done. "For us it feels like we are kind of getting to the end but with the Supreme Court and the appeal, we are hopeful for an end."

Waikato Times