Tribal Nations’ members ride motorcycles, wear a lot of leather and devote their time to busting stereotypes while fundraising for charity. Vicki Anderson reports.
The leather jacket offers a weighty embrace. It is all a part of the necessary ritual. Lynda Byrnes tucks her blonde hair into her helmet. Nearby, Mita Jacobs offers up a cheeky grin beside his gleaming motorcycle.
In the car park, people offer furtive glances and hurry into their cars as the Canterbury members of Tribal Nations Motorcycle Club prepare to ride off on to the dusty plains.
The engine of Byrnes’ motorcycle offers a first primal roar to life and is soon joined by a chorus of Harley-Davidsons and Triumphs. In a leather-clad pack, the club insignia visible on their backs, they roar out on to the highway.
A man crossing the car park, who has immaculately coiffed grey hair, catches my eye. ‘‘You couldn’t hope to meet a nicer bunch,’’ he says, waving his walking stick in the direction of the departing bikers.
It’s not the stereotypical reaction but then Tribal Nations isn’t a typical motorcycle club.
A registered sponsor of Lifeline, its members own British, European and American motorcycles and organise social rides and motorcycle events to help raise awareness around all forms of violence, abuse and suicide.
Each year it raises tens of thousands of dollars for charity.
Earlier, Atama Moore had politely pressed an orange juice into my hand and urged me to take a seat beside a huge pile of leather jackets while Jacobs, a tall man with a long white beard, and his friend leaned in for a hongi.
As she pulls up a seat next to me, Byrnes jokes she’s had enough media attention in recent times after taking a contractor to task for encasing a Christchurch tree in concrete.
‘‘Not many people know about this side of me . . . the bikes and Tribal Nations.’’
I’ve been offered a rare opportunity to sit in on one of the motorcycle club’s gatherings.
Lesa Clarke sits across from me at a long table. We’re surrounded by helmets and in the background AC/DC is playing. Running her hand through her short black hair, she points to the green patch on her leather jacket with the word F.A.I.T.H.
‘‘Tribal Nations is an extended family,’’ says Clarke. ‘‘We support each other. We go out on rides together and we do charity work.’’
Asocial motorcycle club, Tribal Nations began in Nga¯ ruawa¯ hia, considered its spiritual home, in 2014.
Steeped in Ma¯ oridom, at its core, it has an emphasis on campaigning to spread awareness of violence, abuse and suicide.
Its 200-odd members are spread throughout New Zealand – from Invercargill to Whangarei.
There is one elected president, Kevin Pepperell, based in Nga¯ ruawa¯ hia and, unlike in traditional gang culture, the regions are managed by ambassadors and committees.
‘‘Tribal Nations has people from all nations, backgrounds and cultures,’’ says Pepperell.
‘‘With the ride against teen suicide earlier this year we raised close to $20,000. In November we’ll be coming down south for the White Ribbon ride. Whenever we raise money we make a big song and dance about it, with the giant cheques and everything. We want people to see where their money is going.’’
For these rides, bikers pay a registration fee, which can be about $50. The group then rides a scenic route to a destination. Families and supporters are waiting at the final spot with games and a barbecue.
Somewhat controversially, club members wear a back patch, or as they prefer to call it, a ‘‘back set’’.
Pepperell says they do this in a bid to ‘‘change stereotypes’’.
‘‘We are a back patch nongang. Wearing a patch on your back or your leg or your arm doesn’t mean you are an outlaw. Our members are ex-military. They’re doctors, pilots, road workers, lawyers, former gang members, Christian Indians, Chinese lawyers. We’ve got one guy called The Professor in Oamaru.
‘‘They are people from all walks of life, all creeds and religions . . . In our club women are welcomed and our equals. Anyone wanting to join is vetted.’’
Some members have troubled pasts but have moved on and want to improve their lives. ‘‘Spoons did years in prison, Tiny is a recovered heroin addict. It’s not about who they were, it’s about who they are now. Everyone has a past, it’s what you’re doing now that matters.’’
Tribal Nations is, he says, non-threatening, law-abiding and friendly to all. Its kaupapa is to support those in the community who are disadvantaged, disenfranchised, and suffering serious illness, neglect, deprivation, abuse – whether physical or emotional – and addictions.
‘‘First and foremost we are a motorcycle club but we combine this with working in our communities to bring about positive change.’’
The club has three main fundraising rides it organises or takes part in. Its RATS (riders against teen suicide) rides are held nationwide. It also holds a Ride of Respect for our veterans and a White Ribbon ride against domestic violence in November.
Members can organise rides to support other charities too.
Earlier this month, Christchurch-based husband and wife Allan and Kerry Townsend held Stands Up Ride 2018 to raise funds for Aviva, formerly the Women’s Refuge.
Aviva fundraising manager Ta’ase Vaoga says it was the first fundraising motorcycle ride for
the organisation. ‘‘It is really great to have Allan and Kerry support us in this way.’’
More than 100 riders from throughout the South Island took part and rode 200 kilometres across Canterbury. Moneys raised would go towards running and operating Aviva’s 24-hour crisis support line and all-ages education programmes.
Tiki O’Brien, a traditional Ma¯ ori artist, is one of the ‘‘originals’’ who first sat around a table and decided to ‘‘take the kaupapa to the world’’ with Tribal Nations. He designed the group’s seal, the Hei Tiki, holding the taiaha, with huia, hawk feathers and pistons.
‘‘F.A.I.T.H. stands for our five basic core values,’’ says O’Brien. ‘‘Family, which comes first; Acceptance – the unique differences of all people, cultures, religions and beliefs; Integrity, to be authentic, whole, complete and of good character; Trust and Honesty.’’
Its guiding principles recognise the tino rangatiratanga and mana whenua of all people.
O’Brien says motorcycling was something he did when he was young but, as he got older, he felt he was missing out.
‘‘Getting involved in Tribal Nations has been an amazing experience. I love motorcycles. I love being with people and this is just the group I was looking for, not just in terms of riding for fun but riding for a good cause with a great bunch of people.’’
Byrnes enjoys the opportunity to go on rides with others. ‘‘No-one has made me feel uncomfortable. Motorcycling can be a solitary thing, especially as a woman.’’
Through their fundraising efforts, she feels they are making a difference where it really matters. ‘‘Some of these teenagers who are struggling with suicide have a tough persona. They will come up and talk to you because they think you are tough enough to hear what they have to say.
‘‘It’s an important group in the community we might be able to reach that others can’t.’’
After first finding Tribal Nations ‘‘up north’’, Moore joined when he moved to ‘‘te turu region’’, Christchurch.
He grew up around motorcycles and jokes that he ‘‘rode out of the womb’’.
‘‘In my upbringing there was a lot of mental and emotional abuse. I’ve lost some people close to me through suicide . . . Tribal Nations is also a good representation of Ma¯ oridom, which I love. I’m a proud Ma¯ ori,’’ he says. ‘‘I have grown up around the back patch . . . Black Power, Mongrel Mob, I have family members in both organisations..
‘‘Tribal Nations takes a firm stand on not being a gang. I would love to help destroy the stigma around the wearing of a back patch. Not all people who wear patches on their back is a gang. We are a motorcycle club who wants to serve the community.’’
The leather gear is simply the ‘‘best protection’’ on a motorbike. ‘‘It’s not to try and look tough, it’s to protect us. It keeps you nice and safe.’’
O’Brien says the back set is a way to get their message ‘‘and brand’’ across. ‘‘Motorcycle clubs have been around for 50 years. We thought it was time to take a modern approach. We have a Facebook page and a website with professional videos. People see our name and they can Google us and see what we’re about straight away.’’
Recently, he was on a ride with a fellow club member and they pulled into a cafe.
‘‘We wanted to get some hot chocolates. These kids came running over to us screaming and saying they’d seen our videos and all the good stuff we do in the community.’’
Pepperell says Tribal Nations members have been approached by members of other gangs, unsure of their intentions.
Moore has experienced this first hand in Christchurch.
‘‘I’ve had run-ins on the road where gang members in cars have thrown up gang signs. I stick to the road rules and give them a friendly wave. My sign is the peace sign.
‘‘We are blessed as a club, we have no enemies. Tribal Nations has the mana of being neutral. We are respected but we give a lot of respect.’’
At first blush, Jacobs cuts an intimidating figure but if you spend five minutes with him you’ll quickly be laughing at his down-to-earth, cheeky nature.
‘‘There are a lot of quiet people like us out here plodding away for the community,’’ he says. He confides that he used to ride with the ‘‘1 per centers and the Hells Angels’’.
He joined Tribal Nations in June after meeting members at a BACA (Bikers Against Child Abuse) Ride. ‘‘I feel it is a beautiful kaupapa, that was what brought me here. The other members do all these flash jobs, I am a digger operator and I just chuck a shovel around,’’ he says, grinning.
‘‘To be honest I’m around people I haven’t been around before. I’ve always been in the lower socio-economic thing with the bros and all that. This has opened my eyes.
‘‘We are all here just trying to make something good happen in this crazy world.’’
In February the group will celebrate its fifth anniversary with a ‘‘bit of a do’’ in Reefton.
Times are changing. Last week Pepperell, in his leather jacket with club insignia, was stopped in the street by an ‘‘old lady with purple hair’’.
‘‘She looked at me and she said ‘you guys aren’t baddies’. I thought, ‘finally, we’re cracking it’.’’
Tiki O’Brien, an ‘‘original’’ member of Tribal Nations, a New Zealand-wide motorcycle club that works to raise funds for charities. The group’s motto is F.A.I.T.H. – standing for Tribal Nations’ five core values: Family, Acceptance, Integrity, Trust and Honesty.
Some members of the Christchurch, te turu, Tribal Nations Motorcycle Club, from left, Lesa Clarke, Mita Jacobs, Kerry Townsend, Allan Townsend, Lynda Byrnes, and, far right, Atama Moore.
Atama Moore is a Christchurch member of Tribal Nations. ‘‘We are a motorcycle club who wants to serve the community.’’