3 Aug 2021

Dark days of the 1970s Dawn Raids are at last formally acknowledged

5:33 pm on 3 August 2021

Pasifika communities in New Zealand are relieved the dark days of the 1970s Dawn Raids are at last being formally acknowledged.

Pasifika families flocked to Aotearoa to fill a labour shortage, until an economic downturn pitted them as the scapegoat. They were deported and forced out of what they had come to know as home.

Nearly 50 years on Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern delivered an unreserved apology on Sunday, August 1, to those who were left traumatised for life.

The Auckland Town Hall filled to the brim - for a day that will go down in the history of Aotearoa New Zealand.

Hundreds congregated in silence for the moment Prime Minister would apologise for a racist immigration policy that tore apart a proud people.

An ie toga, or fine mat, was draped over her, in observance of the contemporary practice of ifoga, a traditional Samoan display of reconciliation, reserved for those who have perpetrated serious crimes.

A mat is draped over Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern as part of the Samoan Ifoga ceremonial apology.

A mat is draped over Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern as part of the Samoan Ifoga ceremonial apology. Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi

Then, elders of the Pasifika community remove the ie toga from Ms Ardern's head as a symbol of forgiveness.

"The Government expresses its sorrow, remorse, and regret that the Dawn Raids and random police checks occurred and that these actions were ever considered appropriate.

"Our Government conveys to the future generations of Aotearoa that the past actions of the Crown were wrong, and that the treatment of your ancestors was wrong," the Prime Minister said.

Following the historic apology, a range of speakers then reflected on their Dawn Raids experiences, including Toesulu Brown, who has been recognised by the New Zealand Order of Merit as a pioneer of Gagana Samoa being taught in the country's classrooms.

She said those who couldn't speak fluent English were immediate targets of Police.

"We lived in Ponsonby and from what I can remember, none of my kids ever were stopped. I guess because they could vocalise and speak English. And me and my husband were never stopped, and yet we were sort of brown."

Brown said whilst the Dawn Raids represented dark clouds in Pasifika history, it was now time to move on.

"I hope that all the people that actually went through the pain, the families, would accept it. Because we have chosen New Zealand as our home," she said,

More than 7000 people signed a petition asking for an apology and for the Dawn Raids to be part of the school curriculum.

And on Sunday night, it was announced that resources will indeed be provided to teach about the Raids in schools and kura.

Ardern announced $2.1-million will be put into academic and vocational scholarships for Pasifika communities here.

As well, $1-million will go to training courses courses for delegates from Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu and Fiji.

Benji Timu speaks on the kaupapa of a petition he co-wrote.

Benji Timu speaks on the kaupapa of a petition he co-wrote. Photo: RNZ / Daniela Maoate-Cox

Benji Timu organised the petition with Josiah Tualamali'i is delighted.

"Yeah definitely a victory for people power. But also you know it's not just about Josiah and I making this petition. It's actually about all the people coming together and coming here to be seen, pretty much."

Timu said he respected the government for fulfilling his petition's wishes.

"It's actually so much easier than it looks. So you know, with all the sort of bureaucracies and all the politics and stuff. Put it all to side and just go straight on."

He stopped to shed a tear, for those who couldn't see the fruits of their labour.

"Yeah I'm emotional now. Just trying to hold it in. Balling my eyes out, honestly, just in the crowd. Just... I don't know man. Just thinking about people in the past you know. Those who arent with us anymore and I guess for those who just saw this as a normal thing."

In a gift-giving ceremony known as the Sua, larger fine mats were given to the attending Tongan Princess Mele Siu'ilikutapu Kalaniuvalu Fotofili.

Rugby legend La'auli Sir Michael Jones was very moved by apology.

"I think the symbolism of the Prime Minister here under the ie toga in that ifoga process, and the lifting of that, and the hugging. I thought that was the moment there, to me," he reflected.