Conservation Staff Threatened For Using GPS

Motiti Island, New Zealand

Spotted in the news …  this Sunday-Star Times article about a New Zealand Department of Conservation worker who was threatened for using GPS.

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.

Maybe he was just geocaching? 😉

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].”

The article leaves me wondering whether there is some misunderstanding there about what GPS does but, despite that, it is fair enough that the local tribe (or iwi in Maori) doesn’t want the location of its special places recorded in any way. A little extreme of Jackson to threaten to kill, though. To the iwi’s credit, they have said they want no part of Jackson’s behaviour.

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.

So the Conservation Department staff, who had been invited onto the island to help save and protect the wildlife after the Rena grounding, were essentially threatened for doing their job. I find the extreme level of ignorance and  bullying behaviour by Jackson frustrating.

I am of the suspicion that people who behave like this are only interested in having a fight, not actually resolving the issue in front of them. Jackson had the opportunity to ask the DOC workers what they were doing and I’d put money on it that they would have ceased their GPS use until the matter was resolved with iwi.

Fortunately, there are no geocaches (listed on GC.com, anyway) on Motiti Island, so cachers aren’t going to be put in danger there. But it does highlight how any situation can become dangerous!


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  1. Pete

    “The article leaves me wondering whether there is some misunderstanding there about what GPS does, but despite that it is fair enough that they don’t want the location of special places recorded in any way.”

    I was a guest on Tuhoi land some years ago, and they were very concerned I didn’t stray too much off the beaten path. We joked that they didn’t want their dope plantations discovered, and it wouldn’t surprise me that was part of it – lol.

    However, the emotional reaction you label as ignorant needs to be viewed in the right context. Politically motivated radicals aside, there are people to whom certain spots on the lands have deep, deep personal and/or spiritual significance.

    This will be absurd and extreme as an example, but imagine you lost a very close family member and had placed them in the ground on “your” land. Then find someone from the council running a tape measure over the grave.

    That sort of thing.

    Politically motivated “radicals” aside, I think it’s entirely reasonable for people to be upset when they see “outsiders” make quantitative measures of land they hold very sacred.

    Incidentally, the group I was with was the first, EVER, to ask to be allowed on Tuhoi lands (ie: DOC land), and in return we were treated as respected and valued guests and had the most amazing time.

    Most of the time it’s the old problem: poor communications, assumptions and ignorance of each other’s intentions.

    1. Cumbyrocks

      Hence the second half of the sentence “…but despite that it is fair enough that they don’t want the location of special places recorded in any way.” 😉

  2. tharon.knoetze

    I could say something….. but it would not be PC!!!
    Hope the staff member opened a case….

    1. Cumbyrocks

      You not PC!?! Whatever!!!! 😛

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