GUEST BLOG: Graham Cameron – “Would we take a softly, softly approach if Gloriavale was a Māori community?”


Campbell Live’s activist journalism has thrown a spotlight on the West Coast Christian community of Gloriavale. Anchored by the courage of Julia to tell a tragic and painful story and followed by the telling testimony of other ex-members, the claims are disturbing and myriad. The claims to date have included: bullying (particularly of young women); starvation; isolation for extended periods; physical punishment and assault; sexual assault and abuse; child sex abuse; benefit fraud; and indentured labour.

In response, last week the Police paid a “social visit” to Gloriavale after calling for ex-members to come forward with complaints. After the visit, Area Commander Canning commented it appeared to be “business as usual” at Gloriavale and Tasman District Commander Malthus siad that whilst they were aware of “certain allegations,” they wanted to “fully understand what these mean”. Meanwhile on Seven Sharp, clearly concerned they were losing the ratings war on this one, they did what can only be described as a puff piece with their two substantial interviews being a wide-eyed sychophant and part of the problem Fervent Stedfast.

Which all amounts to… not very much at all and lead my wife to ask this question: what if Gloriavale was a Māori community?

Imagine if you will a Māori community with leaders who feel they have heard from god and whose word is regarded as divine revelation. It’s run along values that include prescribed and gendered roles for men and women. The leaders speak frequently against the society outside the community and present themselves as a special people who have been set apart and chosen. They run a strict form of Māori justice that includes physical discipline, exclusion and community humiliation. They practice polygamy in family relationships and regularly marry their girls to older men of the community at the time they have their first period. All resources including money are pooled under the financial direction of the leaders; they also have their members apply for benefits and pool those benefits as part of those resources. There have been accusations of sexual and physical abuse from people who have left the community, and they all had to leave in secret. Due to public interest, the community has shut off the roads to their village and will not allow media or scrutiny unless it is through their leadership.

Imagine such a Māori community existed, and then answer this question: would the Police and media actions be to wait for members of that community to make complaints? Thankfully we don’t need to speculate about such a situation as they are well recorded in our national history.

The small Taranaki settlement of Parihaka was founded in 1866 by Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kakahi and grew to 2,000 people by the 1880s, Māori from a variety of iwi throughout Aotearoa New Zealand. The village was carefully planned and run, with more modern infrastructure than many other towns and cities in the country in that period. The men and women of the village produced enough food to feed themselves and at times sell food to New Plymouth. The community was run on faith-based and non-violent principles, and government encroachment led to the celebrated Parihaka campaigns in which they ploughed settlers’ farmland and later erected fences across roadways to impress upon the government their continued right to occupy land that was being confiscated.

All of this culminated in an invasion by 1,600 troops and cavalry on 5 November 1881. The soldiers were greeted with hundreds of skipping and singing children and then offered freshly baked bread on the women. Te Whiti and Tohu were arrested and jailed for 16 months, 1,600 Parihaka inhabitants were expelled and dispersed throughout Taranaki without food or shelter and the remaining 600 residents were issued with government passes to control their movement. Soldiers burnt the crops, looted and destroyed most of the buildings, chopped and burnt down the bush around the village, and assaulted the remaining women.

The small prophetic community of Maungapohatu in the Urewera forest was founded by Rua Kenana in 1908. Rua was a prophet and land rights activist who offered a millennial yet also practical vision for his followers. Maungapohatu was a harsh environment to live in, but again it was run along forward thinking lines of traditional practices and modern advances, most obvious in the architecture and horticulture. Rua’s prophetic message gave meaning to the harsh existence and hope for the future. Rua spoke about power sharing types of government which they modeled in Maungapohatu, and during World War I was outspoken about not joining the war.

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It was this agitation that was, in many ways, the final straw for the government of the day. Using an old and farcical charge of grog selling, on 2 April 1916 a large heavily armed police party arrived at Maungapohatu to arrest him. So as not to alert the Maungapohatu village of their intention to spring an attack they did not wear their police uniforms till just before the raid. They had convinced themselves that when they reached Maungapohatu there would be an ambush. There was no violent resistance from Rua, though he objected to his arrest. The approach of the Police ultimately led to a gun battle with the police, and Rua went on to serve a year in prison, the community was financially ruined and Pākehā education and religion were quick to fill the place Rua left.

The events in the communities at Parihaka and Maungapohatu are two of the more well-known instances of the approach the authorities, particularly the Police, take to Māori communities seeking to live a life apart from the wider community based on their own beliefs and approach. Lest you consider it old history and irrelevant, the Police raids in Ruatoki on 15 October 2007 indicate the suspicion of Māori communities is alive and well in Wellington. Remember residents of a whole Māori community were held at gunpoint whilst the Police, flushed with their new ant-terrorist powers, searched for terrorists in the mist.

The Police and other authorities’ impotence in light of the claims in Gloriavale is a telling example of the privilege of being Pākehā in our Aotearoa New Zealand. The hand-wringing about due process, the need to follow the law and the desire to protect the rights of people to live in the way they choose are all laudable values; Gloriavale is an intractable mess in that sense. I am certainly not encouraging para-military or Police raids of the Gloriavale community, though I do think that any community established by a convicted child sex abuser should not be allowed to dictate the terms of engagement with agencies.

However I am highlighting an uncomfortable reality in our country. If claims about a Māori community included bullying, starvation, isolation for extended periods, physical punishment and assault, sexual assault and abuse, child sex abuse, benefit fraud, and indentured labour, do you really believe the Police Area Commander would have made a social visit?



Graham Bidois Cameron is of Ngāti Ranginui, Te Arawa and Ngāti Hinerangi descent. He has worked and volunteered in community development for 15 years, and lives in Tauranga Moana. He is completing his Masters of Theology with Otago University.



  1. I have always believed in questioning that phase “We are all born equal”.

    So who gave “them” (whoever they are) the right to order me to “comply” with their rules/law.

    Who the hell are they kidding?

    If you always believe in that rule “We care all born equal” then start questioning “their authority” whoever “their” is at any time.

    This is why I will always oppose those who say “we are the authority”

    David Icke is definitely right in my mind.

    • Icke is as mad as a cut snake. An egotist and a cult leader. He talks shy**. What his followers do demonstrate however ,is that PT Barnum was spot on when he said ” there’s one born every minute!”

    • @ Clean Green . Dead right . Fuck the authority ! We have a democracy in tatters and our ‘leader’ ( Little bit of sick ) can get away with tormenting a service industry worker for his giggles and the authority he represents says that’s just ok . Poor old jonky, made an error of judgement . He said he’s sorry … My fat hairy arse he’s sorry .

      Those nut jobs hiding their power brokering dysfunctions in the west coast jungle are as mad as they’re cunning manipulators . They’re proof perfect of how vulnerable we are to being manipulated by authority figures .

      I have one or more questions though . Why are they usually such arse holes ? Why are Jesus freaks and weirdy cult leaders so Hell bent on emotionally disfiguring their prey ? What’s wrong with a little weirdy love and emotional comforting ? Do you ever hear from a cult escapee complaining they were loved too much and all that hugging and caring was too suffocating ? No, you don’t hear that. It’s always stories too horrific to comprehend . Child abuse , elderly abuse , pet abuse , indoor plant abuse , the only people not abused are the abusers ! What does that fucking say ?
      @ Clean Green . Indeed . Fuck the authority figures !
      David Icke says he sees lizard people . I’d believe him over some puffed up , pompous vicar saying he hears God talking to him and telling him to roger the alter boy any day of the fucking week including fucking Sunday .

  2. Spot on.
    It is sad New Zealand does not truly embrace the Maori culture, for its uniqueness in the world, as apposed to what governments do now, use Maori as a political tool, to divide a country.
    It may be only the Treaty of Waitangi that puts a barrier between NZ and the corporate rip off deal that is the TPPA. If this is the case, in a round about sort of way, Maori would save NZ.
    Glorivale should be shutdown immediately if children are in danger of abuse. But as the blog suggests, it is pussyfooting around for one race, the heavy hand for the other, all so it looks right for the voters!

  3. For what its worth…through various means ( working on a construction site of all places ) I was asked about putting up a guy who escaped from that community …late 1980’s early 1990’s.

    He had an epic story to tell. He was young , intelligent and very sincere. And like the others who have left…he was ostracized by that community. He was a hard worker…and made his way well…he would of been about 20 back then. He also had several other siblings leave after he did.

    I …being the person I am…wanted to do a bit of surveillance myself…when I was hitchhiking around the South Island. And so I decided to call a visit to that community, …incognito as it were a random traveler /backpacker.

    I met his family, order to assure them all was well with the children. But I was immediately surrounded by these ( laughable in reality ) guys at night …as they had offered to put me up for the night. They ,- about 6 of them – constantly needled and inquired to what I believe , …looking for a weak point in my reply’s. I was quite amused .. not being a person given to being easily swayed…

    Come morning…at the breakfast tables..I was seated next to the leader…where…over a microphone…I was roundly criticized and belittled. I found it all quite ludicrous in reality. Finally I was unceremoniously kicked out..

    They said they had put me up , even fed me…(which they did for a night )…and I replied ” Hey- ok ,…I’ve got some muesli with me- here ,take that ”…to which they replied ”we don’t eat that sort of thing”…

    Anyways …I left …and continued on my travels..armed now with an understanding of just what my new friend had undergone having lived there all his life.

    I would say this…however, ..the problem is more with the leader…the people themselves…well ,…it was their choice in a way…and most folk seem like really good people. Just misguided and incredibly sheltered…exhibiting the same sort of exclusive alienation from greater society that most cults try to enforce.

    Such was my youth . I wont add much more except to say the guy that flatted with me has since traveled overseas and helped out in the earthquake in Chile and throughout South America with the orphanages , he is a teacher well as a qualified builder.

    And a finer person you could not possibly hope to meet .

    Such is the peculiar twists and turns in this life…you never know what adventures will bring.

  4. I believe mainstream kiwis are ignorant more than racist but their is this perception by fellow maori and a history that NZ kiwis are racist. I studied in one of our education campuses and found a lot of comments against maori were, how should I put it standard put downs and perceptions of how and why maori are, and not only from the students but from the teachers as well.

    And our history is filled with examples of dislike for the maori culture and only embrace it for token gesture ie the allblack haka and tourism but apart from that our prisons and all the negative statistic are filled with maori people how hypocritical is that our country needs to act like a first world country or is this the norm from the west?

  5. I know you’ve atttempted to draw a tenuous connection, but most people won’t see any meaningful relationship between events of 100+ years ago, and the Police’s failure or otherwise to properly investigate Gloriavale.

    The tiny difference between the Ruatoki case and Gloriavale is that in Ruatoki the investigation was centred around alleged paramilitary activity!

    TLDR is it’s a pointless whine, 3/10.

  6. I also think Bugger the police on this one. It’s the churches which should step up to the plate.

    Any muppet can add christian to their name – doesn’t mean they are, or that they will act in a christian manner. Actually I think this case is a very good example of the fear, and idiocy that many of the churches coming out the United States have imposed on the world.

    To many of these so called christian churches, are nothing more than usurpers of Christs name. To many talk as if they are the only christian voice.

    Well I’ve had enough! If you talk about fear and hate your not my type of christian – and you don’t talk for me. You can’t hide behind the name christian, be villainous little creations and expect us to accept your vial acts anymore.

    And I agree with Graham Bidois Cameron, if it had been a Maori christian group – the churches would have at the very least, called for action before now. Instead they sit on their hands.

  7. If it was a Maori community it would all be a secret. We all know no matter what horrors occur (death of babies due to phusical abuse as an example) Maori wont speak out.

    At least some people are speaking out in this instance.

  8. Of course if Glorivale was run by Maori the whole of NZ would be in an up roar baying for blood.
    It amazes me how some churches, sects or cults are left to go blindly on their own devious way until some one jumps up and down with such might these leaders are knocked of their perches.
    look how long Bert Potter was able to lead his cult
    the latest cult list a handy one to have…

  9. I recall that Brian Tamaki, a Maori, and leader of the Destiny Church was subject to a fair bit of media “attention” about a decade ago.

  10. I had the misfortune to live in Centrepoint community in 1983 for nine months. I was 13 years old.

    There was plenty of sexual abuse of children going on. Within the community we knew that the “outside” talked of it, but inside the men who talked and led the community saw it differently. They told us they were only “awakening” the sexuality of… children. A typical pedophile justification.

    Quite disgusting, and very harmful for the children on whom these pedophiles preyed. And prey they did.

    It was only after I left that there were rumours of drugs in the community. I never saw any while I was there, while I was there there was a very staunch anti drug mantra. I guess maybe that changed after 1983.

    From what I could tell the police had strong suspicions of pedophilia at Centrepoint for a long time. I had a family member who was in the police force who was made aware of what may be happening to me at the time, and apparently the police were unable to act.

    They only acted once there was a drug problem.

    Sexually abusing kids = not a problem worth acting on.

    Drugs = bad, police will act.

    That’s the conclusion I must come to.

    So if there is pedophilia, sexual abuse, and forced labour at Gloriavale, it surprises me not one bit that the police are doing nothing.

  11. If the ponytail puller was, say, Hone Harawira, Pita Sharples, Willie Jackson, Ron Mark or Te Ururoa Flavell would it be quite the same “non-“issue?

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