Research backs iwi checkpoints

16 Aug, 2021
Dr Antje Deckert standing arms folded and smiling at the camera.
Dr Antje Deckert

New research supports the use of community checkpoints, as implemented by Māori during the pandemic.

“When the coronavirus first hit, the New Zealand Government gained public support for its lockdown rules with a great communication strategy, but it failed to provide for localised public health education and the infrastructures for a positive and kind policing of lockdown measures,” says AUT Senior Lecturer Antje Deckert, criminologist and lead author of the research paper.

“Being part of a ‘team of five million’ was too abstract an idea to be meaningful in practice and burdened people with the paradoxical task of enforcing the rules while being kind.

“As a result, Kiwis not only dobbed in rulebreakers to police but they also policed each other with harsh words and looks of disapproval.”

Indigenous-led community checkpoints, on the other hand, demonstrated both effective policing of lockdown measures and public health education, the researchers found.

As Aotearoa went into alert level 4, several iwi set up community checkpoints run by volunteers.

The checkpoints were established at the borders of iwi territory to avoid the spread of COVID-19 by travellers who moved outside their neighbourhood without prior permission particularly to protect vulnerable predominantly Māori communities in remote parts of Aotearoa.

Many iwi deemed these checkpoints necessary based on experience; remembering the disparate loss of life during the 1918 influenza pandemic during which Māori died at eight times the rate of Pākehā.

“Iwi’s willingness to work alongside New Zealand Police and their ability to build meaningful relationships with locals contributed to real and long-term community building.

“Facilitating more opportunities for that kind of ‘togetherness’ creates communities that are safer and healthier than burdening the individual with ‘dobbing in’ their neighbour,” Dr Deckert says.

“To fight a pandemic successfully, the most important factor is the public’s support for any government-ordered public health measures.

“To garner public support, the government must succeed in both: clear communication and community building.”

The research is part of the international Care and Responsibility Under Lockdown (CARUL collective) study, led in Aotearoa by AUT, for which a team of researchers surveyed 3644 individuals about their experiences of the country’s first Covid-19 lockdown.

It is headed by Associate Professor Nicholas Long at the London School of Economics and Political Science, in collaboration with academics from AUT, The University of Auckland, Victoria University, The University of Waikato, Kaitiaki Research and Evaluation, Australian National University and Monash University.

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