James K. Baxter and Beyond
Visionary and poet James K. Baxter believed that for New Zealand society to become whole, Pakeha should be able to see things "from the Maori side of the fence." To that end, he famously established a commune at Jerusalem on the banks of the Whanganui river. There he noted three kinds of poverty: Nga Pohora, the poor; Nga Mokai the fatherless; Nga raukore, the trees who have had their leaves and branches stripped away.
He expressed a dim view of impediments to change. "I look at the monolithic forces gathered; the Goliath of the state and it’s criminal justice system; the howling political animals stirred by the smell of power–blood and worked into a frenzy of allegation; the chattering classes galvanized by the fear of the tattooed face and talking up panic. It comes to me to arm ourselves against the modern day Goliaths."
He urged his followers to go to the river and choose, for our metaphoric slings, the five stones worn smooth by the water of Maori society that he called: Arohanui, holding the love of the people; Korero, staying prepared to talk things through; Mahi, working together for a common purpose; Manuhiritanga, offering an open house to those in need; Matewa, feeding our spiritual life. CART programmes and initiatives are guided by these ideals.
The Pioneers who Followed
Following a career-long immersion in Maori gang culture, founding CART member Denis O'Reilly, a Pakeha New Zealander and former seminarian, was elected a life member of Black Power, and set about extending the inspiration of James K. Baxter's Jerusalem commune on te banks of the Whanganui river.
Denis's ally, Burmese Buddhist Bill Maung, who arrived in New Zealand as a political exile in 1967, also attended tjhe Jerusalem commune and embraced the Baxter message, 'The problem is in the cities.' Black Power had been founded by Rei Harris and others in 1970 and the emergence of urban Maori gangs further demonstrated the impulse to intentional community. Black Power and Mongrel Mob offered specific neo-tribal identity and family environment to Maori youth leaving rural communities. In Wellington Bill and his wife Fran established houses to help accommodate rangatahi gravitating towards this emergent gang scene. Bill worked closely with Rei Harris, and served Black Power as a mentor, spokesman and political adviser. They all played significant roles in the mid 1970s as Black Power began to be perceived as a legitimate organisation with government agencies.
The Te Kaha Trust
In 1974 Denis was instrumental in establishing the Te Kaha Trust. At the time he and Jeff Lewington, also Pakeha and like Denis a former resident of McFarlane St, were running a gang oriented crashpad at 111 Vivian St. For Denis who admits 'a certain protestantism' in these matters: 'On the third day you give the man a shovel!' the problem was getting people active and self supporting. The gang members would work, he recalls, but only on their own terms: sticking together, wearing their patches, keeping their own hours. The solution was to form a workers' cooperative, tendering for contracts, scrub cutting, concreting, digging street sumps for the city council. The scheme succeeded on many of levels. "We'd advertise in the paper and someone would ring up," says Denis. 'Is that you, Mr Kaha?' And I'd answer, 'Yes Ma'am, it certainly is.' And they'd want something done in Karori or somewhere. When we'd turned up with the boys they were horrified. But within half an hour they'd start making scones, and away you went. Some fantastic relationships developed.
As well as helping foster these grassroots relationships, the Te Kaha Trust forged powerful contacts at bureaucratic and governmental levels. Wellington Mayor Michael Fowler became a supporter, and at the urging of the Anglican City Missioner, Canon Arnold, arranged for Walton House in Horner St (an 18 bedroom City Mission hostel) to be turned over to the Trust as a headquarters. They were also befriended by Prime Minister Rob Muldoon and his wife Thea, who visited worksites and shared a beer with them at a house in Elizabeth St; throughout his time in office Muldoon fostered the group's projects, and the Black Power haka at his funeral was a tribute to the stature in which he was held.
In 1989, Denis's Black Power role led back to Jerusalem. The occasion was a national hui, convened at a difficult moment in the gang's history: 'There'd been a lot of wars so the message was, "Hey, let's pull our people back together.” The appropriate venue for the hui was self evident. Taape, Denis's wife, is Te Ati Haunui a Paparangi on her mother's side, and with the help of Wehe and her son Nohi the three day gathering was held in Whiritaunoka. If Nga Mokai' is tribeless youth, then the commune, font of healing and acceptance, was the logical venue. For the first time ever, the wananga involved a rahui on drugs and alcohol, and strict observance of tikanga Maori. And among its effects has been a lasting reminder, the gang's national haka, composed there on the lower marae: 'Te rongo toa o oku t u puna' I am a warrior who listens to the teachings of my ancestors.
Mokai Whanau Ora
The same motif of 'tribelessness' is the keynote of the current core project, Mokai Whanau Ora, a wholesale campaign against the use of methamphetamine. In this project 'the tribe of Nga Mokai' includes methamphetamine users and distributors, their families and their communities. It includes gang members, prisoners and former prison inmates, as well as the mentally ill, the longterm unemployed and those on the margins of society, alienated and alone. This project's have included the 2004 tour by recovering-addict American rock star Joe Walsh. Then in 2005 a three day symposium created for member and leaders of Black Power and Mongrel Mob and led by New York headquartered leadership psychologist, prison reformer, lecturer and writer John Wareham.
Denis continues to direct and chronicle this anti-P campaign from his home base at Waiohiki Pa in Taradale. Gramsci would describe Denis as an 'organic intellectual': a thinker who does his thinking bare handed, at a grassroots level in his community. He reads Baxter's poems at gang funerals. He also read 'The Ballad of the junkies and the Fuzz' to a group of recruits at the Royal Police College. His contribution is proof that Baxter's work owes little to university or to middle class culture. What marks Denis most as an inheritor of the Jerusalem kaupapa, however, is the combination of his hands on commitment and his upbeat vision of a more just and harmonious society.