Tom Poata, the Original "Maori Radical" Part 2

Around 1969 Tom Poata had come to know the Lake family. Poata and the Lakes worked together in many areas including the Communist Party’s youth wing, the Progressive Youth Movement, which Poata was delegated to watch over. One of the Lake’s three daughters’, Sally, helped found the Wellington PYM in 1969.

Doug and Ruth Lake served in NZ’s Legation in Moscow from 1946 to 1949. In 1954 Doug Lake left the External Affairs Department, rather than face a security investigation. The couple became closely involved with the Wellington branch of the Communist Party, Ruth Lake joining the communist controlled Society for Closer Relations with Russia.

From 1963 to 1968 both worked in the Foreign Languages Institute, Peking, polishing work for the foreign language press. They traveled each year to various provinces of China including Mongolia (1964) and Tibet (1965). The Lakes lived through the “Cultural Revolution” and all three daughters were believed to have been active in the “Red Guards”. On returning to NZ in 1969, Doug Lake became active in the communist controlled NZ-China Friendship Society. He wrote a booklet “Tibet, the Facts”, published by the Wellington branch of the Society.

It included these quotes “As the Chinese see it, the national question is in essence a class question. In exploiting class society the ruling class of each nation tries to expand its sphere of exploitation and oppression to others. In order to achieve this it sets one people against another. Thus the national (or racial) question arise from the actions of the oppressing classes of the exploiting nationality… China’s national policy therefore can be described as a class policy by which minority nationalities are assisted to liberate themselves in order to take the path of socialist development...”

The Communist Party wanted to apply the “National Question” strategy in NZ. The Maori people were seen as an important tool in bringing about revolution.

In 1971 Poata wrote the foreword for a book “Te Karanga A Te Kotuku” by Saana Murray, about a land rights struggle in Hapua, North Auckland. The book was edited by Ruth Lake.

The same year Poata wrote a letter with Ruth Lake, Jo Lake and Jackson Smith (all representing the “Maori Organisation On Human Rights”) to the NZ Antiwar Mobilisation Committee suggesting how to improve on the April 30th Antiwar demos, which the four attended. They suggested a march around NZ as an alternative strategy.

Jackson Smith, a Maori Drivers Union official, became a covert member of the pro Soviet, Socialist Unity Party in 1973. He later became a leading member of the SUP’s “Commission on the National Question” and worked with Poata and other radicals on racial issues.

In 1975 a “Maori Land March” was organised by “Te Matakite o Aotearoa”, of which Poata was secretary. A few months after the march the organisers tried to set up a tent embassy outside parliament, they wrote to Chairman Mao, British newspapers and world leaders to promote their cause. Poata’s “tent mate” was a young Tame Iti, also an identified Communist Party member during the 1980’s.

In 1977 Poata took 6 months leave from activism to star in the NZ historical film “The Governor”. This was a new phase in Poata’s career, working in film to push his racial politics to a wider audience.

In February 1978 Poata was arrested at a “land rights” protest at Raglan Golf Course. He wrote an article for the Trotskyite paper “Socialist action” on the protest. “In fact the whole economic system is set up on the basis of the pakeha majority. And this is an unfortunate thing.” He also warned of “real violence, bullets and bloodshed over land issues” [Chch Star 25 May 1988]

That year Poata was involved in protest marches in support of the maori/communist occupation of Bastion Point. In 1979 he was active, with Barney Pikari in Te Matakite o Poneke, a Wellington based “Maori Rights” group. In May 1979 Poata addressed a Wellington “Socialist Forum” (organised by the “Socialist Action League”)on Maori issues, with Raglan protest leader, Eva Rickard and Barney Pikari. In September 1979 Poata and Pikari attended in Wellington a celebration of 10 years of the “Socialist Action” newspaper.

By 1980 Poata was hanging around with Maoists again, addressing a meeting of the Victoria University “Progressive Students Association”.

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