Long-overdue appeal: New Zealand government urged to apologize for dawn raids on Pasifika in 1970s

Polynesian Panthers at a protest rally in the 1970s. Photo / John Miller

A Pacific social justice movement calls on the New Zealand government to formally apologize for the dawn raids of the 1970s.

The then Labor and national governments of the day authorized police raids on homes and workplaces in Pasifika to check over-stay persons; even churches and schools were not taboo.

This practice followed a boom period when migration was encouraged to New Zealand from the Pacific to fill labor shortages.

When the economy declined, it was the Pasifika community that became a political scapegoat for many of the social ills that followed.

Amid it all, the Polynesian Panthers evolved from a need for Pacific migrants to be represented when the government and sections of the media seemingly turned their backs on them.

The Polynesian Panthers now want an apology from the government for the race-based dawn raids.

During the dawn raids, police used a policy of “random checks” to arrest the people of the Pacific and an “unnecessary and disorderly” charge to detain them even when no crime was committed.

The mainstream media at the time seemed to be complicit in the perpetuation of negative stereotypes.

One of the founding members of the Polynesian Panther, Will ‘Ilolahia, said the dawn raids marked a dark time for the Pasifika community.

“It was heartbreaking to hear our community come over and talk to us about all these issues and then some of my friends who got picked up on the road even though they were actually New Zealand-born Pacific Islanders. is long overdue. “

The call was made during a public kōrero during the dawn raids at the Auckland Arts Festival.

Josiah Tualamali’i, youth leader and mental health advocate for Pasifika, echoed the Panthers’ call.

He pledged to write to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern every week asking him to honor the call for an apology.

Four of the founding Polynesian panthers, Alec Toleafoa, left, Tigilau Ness, Melani Anae and Will 'Ilolahia.  Photo / Moera Tuilaepa-Taylor, RNZ
Four of the founding Polynesian panthers, Alec Toleafoa, left, Tigilau Ness, Melani Anae and Will ‘Ilolahia. Photo / Moera Tuilaepa-Taylor, RNZ

He said his heart made him answer and he asked others to join the call.

“Please honor and take responsibility for what has happened in the past. The government can show us, with the large number of Pacific MPs we have and Pacific policymakers across government, that this is no small feat. business of owning what happened in the past. “

He said it was a privilege to amplify the voices of those who are no longer there to tell their stories.

“But fortunately, we have [some of] the Panthers who are always there with us. Some of them are still there and can remind our country of what happened and that we can do more to address it and define the future that Aotearoa needs. “

Tualamali’i said the Pasifika youths were learning what was a disastrous part of New Zealand’s history despite the lack of coverage in school curricula.

He said universities, churches and youth clubs in the Pacific had helped spread the story, but the Polynesian Panthers had been the driving force.

“More of the story is told online and in particular the exposure with which the Panthers toured Aotearoa and the books they wrote are an important part of it.

“They made the effort to tell the story and I guess, to a lesser extent, our generation is trying to honor what they told us,” Tualamali’i said.

He hoped others of his generation would also write to the prime minister and express their thoughts on the dawn raids and also ask for a formal apology.

A collection of images from the Dawn Raids era by John Miller.  Photo / Moera Tuilaepa-Taylor, RNZ
A collection of images from the Dawn Raids era by John Miller. Photo / Moera Tuilaepa-Taylor, RNZ

Meanwhile, Will ‘Ilolahia said one way the government could show it was truly sorry was to open up routes for 10,000 Pacific people who are currently staying too long in Aotearoa.

“I would suggest that the government, in its apologies for the dawn raids, provide a residency route for those past the current stage here in Aotearoa.

“It will be a meaningful apology, rather than just an ‘I’m sorry’.”

“Ilolahia was also part of an Auckland Tongan advisory group that helped prepare a petition that was delivered to Parliament last year calling for better pathways to residency for these people.

The petition was due to go to a select committee this month.

‘Illolahia said the over-stay people represented by the petition were contributing members of society.

“I have had cases of people here for 13 years. Their children are actually playing rugby, rep. Their children are the principals in some of our schools,” he said.

“They work on farms. One lady in particular sews Korowai. You can’t tell me these people don’t contribute to Aotearoa.”

‘Ilolahia also said that people were not protected because of their status, which meant that some were taken advantage of by being paid at minimal rates and working in poor conditions.

RNZ Pacific has approached the government for a response to the call for an apology.

The Prime Minister’s Office referred the matter to the Minister for the Peoples of the Pacific, Aupito William Sio.

Aupito did not exclude anything and said in a statement: “I have been approached regarding a formal government apology for the dawn raids.

“I am now receiving advice on this and at this point it would be inappropriate to comment further due to these ongoing discussions.”

Meanwhile, Tualamali’i and ‘Ilolahia will continue their fight for recognition of what they saw as a great evil that had occurred in many families in the Pacific.

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