Who are the Tribal Huk, and where do they get the authority to warn off drug dealers?

(videos)--Acting like some sort of Wild West lawmen, the Tribal Huk gang has essentially given P dealers until sundown Friday to get out of Ngaruawahia.

It's another step in a kind of strange re-emergence of the gangs into national consciousness.

This week outgoing Police Association president Greg O'Connor warned proactive policing of gangs was declining, allowing them to boost their numbers.

He pointed to the Head Hunters, saying their numbers had risen from 135 to 275 patched and prospects in the past two years. O'Connor said he was reliably informed each month up to 70 new recruits front up in Auckland "for what can only be considered in-service training".

Sociologist Dr Jarrod Gilbert, who wrote the book Patched: The History of Gangs in New Zealand, raised doubts about O'Connor's maths, but agrees patched gangs are going through something of a resurgence.

Tribal Huk president Jamie Pink giving methamphetamine dealers Ngaruawahia 24 hours to get out or face the consequences.
CHRISTEL YARDLEY/FAIRFAX NZ

Tribal Huk president Jamie Pink giving methamphetamine dealers Ngaruawahia 24 hours to get out or face the consequences.

 

But they're not like the gangs your parents knew in the 1970s and 1980s, or that your grandparents knew in the 1950s and 1960s.

In late 2014 - around the time the Tribal Huk and its leader Jamie Pink were getting plaudits, some from overseas, for its work feeding children at schools in its area - Gilbert noted the gangs were ageing and maturing. "The commonplace and overt gang violence of the past is gone."

Despite that, he warned: "The gangs may not be what they once were but they aren't Rotary Clubs either. Among their number are some hard, violent men, some with little or no buy-in to mainstream life. Furthermore, when younger members are coming through they often bring with them new, troubling attitudes."

14102016 News Photo: /Fairfax NZ .<br />
The Tribal Huks have a history of attacking those they don't want in their town of ...
KELSEY WILKIE/FAIRFAX NZ

14102016 News Photo: /Fairfax NZ . The Tribal Huks have a history of attacking those they don't want in their town of Ngarauwahia.

 

MTV and media had taught the new members "it's all about the bling".

Nothing about the public image portrayed by the Tribal Huk gives any indication that's a problem for its members. They have been making sandwiches for hungry school children for five years, they run a farm, and they intend to stop the dealing of P in their town.

Amid the positive reports, the gang did have a bit of a hiccup last December when Pink appeared in court charged with cannabis possession.

About the same time, he was also named as a Kiwibank Local Hero of the Year. After the court appearance he asked for forgiveness from the schools and children he helps. By then gang members were making close to 1000 sandwiches a day, taking them to 54 schools.

In 2008 he was in the news after appearing in court on wilful damage charges after seeking out the people he thought were responsible for offering his daughter P.

In a documentary by Australia's SBS in mid-2015, Pink said he had been in prison a few times for "bashing people" and the "odd GBH". It was nothing to skite about, and he had been out for eight or nine years, although he had no regrets. The people he had done things to deserved what they got.

The gang had been known as the Tribal Huk for the past 20 years, but had been around since the 1950s as just the Huk, Pink said.

The whole point was to look after Ngaruawahia, the heart of Maoridom. Tribal Huk members were the first line of defence and if another gang came into Ngaruawahia his gang would attack them.

Gilbert said many smaller gangs had formed in the 1960s and 1970s but been swallowed up by larger gangs such as the Mongrel Mob and Black Power.

Despite that, some independent gangs and motorcycle clubs had survived. "They've often had to fight for their right to exist," he said.

He didn't know how many members the Tribal Huk had. "Certainly they've got enough to defend that territory, which they have done for many many years."

In recent decades gangs had been ravaged by such things as methamphetamine. "It's addictive qualities aren't conducive to being a good gang member," Gilbert said. "If you're addicted to a drug, your first commitment is to that drug, not to the gang."

That was why in the 1970s into the 1980s, heroin was strictly banned by the gangs.

Part of the issue with methamphetamine was that it had been around in the outlaw motorcycle scene since the 1980s, although in those days it tended to be weaker and was typically called speed.

The smokeable pure methamphetamine that came along more recently had greater health and addictive properties and  "ripped the guts out" of many large gangs.

That had allowed other gangs to arise, with a prime example being the Rebels Motorcycle Club.  Australia's largest bikie gang, it had given a New Zealand group permission to use its brand.

Gangs and outlaw motorcycle clubs provided benefits for their members, Gilbert said.

"The gangs that provide the most in terms of status, in terms of brotherhood, in terms of perhaps a good clubhouse, perhaps a gym and activities, which all the gangs do - the one's doing the best at those things will get the most members." The Head Hunters had done well in those areas and had gained greater membership.

As many of the earlier gang members had become older, the sort of activities they were involved in had changed. "We're more likely to see profit-driven crime, less likely to see violence."

People also tended to become more civic-minded as they aged, which could be seen with the Tribal Huk. "That sandwich operation they run is mind blowing. It's a phenomenal operation."

That didn't mean gangs had all become altruistic.

While there were always exceptions, gangs as a whole did not make money out of drugs. Rather, that sort of activity might be carried out by just some members.

Looking at the bigger picture, many of the people arrested for large scale drug dealing had nothing to do with gangs.

"The gangs would fall over if it was simply about organised crime," Gilbert said. Many members were looking for families. They hadn't had a family of their own as they grew up, or if they did it might have been abusive.

 - Stuff

 
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MICHAEL DALY
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