23 Oct 2022

Dr Melani Anae looks at what the Polynesian Panthers protest group achieved

From Smart Talk, 7:05 pm on 23 October 2022

Fifty years ago, the Polynesian Panthers Party led a revolution against what it argued was the rampant racism of 1970s Aotearoa.

Dr Melani Anae explores the impact of the Panthers movement on herself and New Zealand society.

A mural in  in Tāmaki Makaurau marking 50 years of the Polynesian Panthers

A mural in in Tāmaki Makaurau marking 50 years of the Polynesian Panthers Photo: AAF

Dr Melani Anae is a senior lecturer in Pacific Studies at the University of Auckland. This talk was delivered on 2 August 2022 at the university's Raising the Bar event.

Educate to liberate!

The Polynesian Panthers movement aimed to expose the oppression and persecution of Pacific people which was accepted by mainstream New Zealand. Only a few years after the group’s founding, the period of the Dawn Raids would bring into sharpest relief the way the country’s predominantly palagi power structures treated its Pacific populations.

In 2021, the government issued a formal apology for this dark period in New Zealand history, which had seen police entering homes and demanding to see permits, visas, or passports – anything that proved a person’s right to be in the country. This happened almost exclusively to Pacific Islanders, even though most overstayers in this era were from Europe or North America.

In this very personal talk, Dr Melani Anae explores how the movement’s radical position permeated her work as an academic, teacher and mentor.

Throughout her career, Dr Anae has been committed to confronting racism through education.

Since the 1970s, a highly politicised generation of Pacific leaders have become politicians, university graduates, doctors, lawyers, All Blacks, academics, writers, theologians, musicians and entertainers.

As a Pacific scholar, Melani has played a significant role in establishing what Pacific scholarship and research should be, particularly in the context of current global challenges such as the Covid-19 pandemic, climate change and the modern and more subtle prejudice that continues today.

She is determined that the Panthers’ story and legacy be passed on to the next generation so history is not repeated.

The Polynesian Panthers at a protest rally in the 1970s.

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


Polynesian Panthers mark 50 years of activism (News)

Polynesian Panther Party of Aotearoa - 50 years on (Voices)

Dr Melani Anae on Saturday Morning (2015)

Dr Melani Anae

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Photo: Supplied

Lupematasila Melani Anae QSO is an Associate Professor at the University of Auckland, specialising in Pacific Studies using an anthropological lens. Her research and teaching over the last 20 years interweaves three strands – social justice/Pacific activism; leadership and ethnic identity work/Pacific empowerment; and liberating education/relational ethics. She wrote The Platform: The Radical Legacy of the Polynesian Panthers, and co-edited Polynesian Panthers: Pacific Protest and Affirmative Action in Aotearoa New Zealand 1971 – 1981.

This session was broadcast in association with the University of Auckland’s Raising the Bar night, held in August 2022

Raising the Bar Auckland logo

Photo: University of Auckland