The Government has announced it will formally apologise for the Dawn Raids. Parliament’s Pasifika MPs share their reactions and memories with Newsroom

At the Auckland Town Hall on June 26, the Government will apologise for a policy Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said caused “deep wounds” for New Zealand’s Pasifika communities.

The Dawn Raids of the 1970s saw police action against Pasifika in search of overstayers, including late night or early morning operations in family homes. Ardern said “almost all” of Labour’s Pasifika MPs had experienced the raids themselves or had a story from their parents.

“It may feel like it was a long time ago, but it runs deep and it runs long and I think we need to acknowledge that,” she said.

Ardern wouldn’t divulge what else might accompany the apology in two weeks’ time, though she seemed to imply that additional support or amnesty for current overstayers wasn’t on the cards.

Much of Labour’s Pasifika caucus. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

Aupito William Sio, the Minister for Pacific Peoples, made the announcement alongside Ardern.

“I don’t think there is any Pacific family who was not impacted by the events of the Dawn Raids and there is a strong moral imperative to acknowledge those past actions were wrong through an apology, they recognise those actions were unacceptable under the universal declaration of human rights, and are absolutely intolerable within today’s human rights protections,” he said.

Responding to a question from Newsroom, he shared his own memories of the Dawn Raids and said with tears in his eyes that many others had experienced similar things. Pasifika reporters in the room also broke down as they asked him about the impact of the raids.

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“That’s just my family. That’s replicated across the Pacific community,” he said. He also called for sensitivity from the media, saying the time ahead of the apology would be important for Pasifika communities to heal and prepare themselves to face the trauma and scars of the raids.

“I just appeal, noting some of the questions that have come forward, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The apology is about helping people heal. People who have been traumatised. There are many, many stories of families who won’t talk about this. I want to give them the opportunity to talk about the trauma and let them heal,” he said.

“This period between now until we have the ceremony, I’m asking you to be a little bit sensitive. I want to help the community heal. I want them to restore their mana as peoples of Aotearoa.”

These are the stories of Parliament’s Pasifika MPs:

Aupito William Sio. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

Aupito William Sio, Minister for Pacific Peoples and MP for Māngere

“We were Dawn Raided, early hours of the morning. The memories etched in my memory of my father being helpless. We had bought the home about two years prior to that and to have somebody knocking at the door in the early hours of the morning with a flashlight in your face, disrespecting the owner of the home, with an Alsatian dog frothing at the mouth in that door and wanting to come in without any respect for the people living in there – it’s quite traumatising,” he said.

“I’ve asked my family on Sunday, what memories do they have? I had my sister who said, ‘Oh my goodness, I never want to think about that.’”

Sio said he hadn’t yet told his father, who wouldn’t talk about his experiences during the Dawn Raids, about the announcement.

“You have to remember: We felt, as a community, that we were invited to come to New Zealand. We responded to the call to fill the labour workforce that was needed, in the same way we responded to the call for soldiers in 1914. We were coming to aid a country when they needed us and then when that friend or country felt that they no longer needed us, they turned on us. Trust was broken. What this apology is about first and foremost is restoring trust, building confidence in the next generation. I do not want my children or any of my nieces and nephews to be shackled by that pain and to be angry about it. I need them to move forward and look to the future as peoples of Aotearoa.”

Terisa Ngobi, MP for Ōtaki

Ngobi said the effect of the raids on her family was a feeling of shame about who they were – especially for her mum. “From that and the way she was treated, she made the decision not to teach me or my brother how to speak Samoan,” she said.

Ngobi says she is going back now at the age of 42 to learn Samoan. “Looking back to my mum’s generation, it’s about making those wrongs right,” she said. “She deserves to be here, and what happened isn’t right.”

Ngobi spoke to her mum this afternoon, after the announcement. “She was crying. She said ‘I love that woman, she has the biggest heart, the Prime Minister Jacinda.’” Ngobi says she can’t put the feeling of what this means for Pacific people into words.

Barbara Edmonds and Terisa Ngobi. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

Poto Williams, Minister for Police and MP for Christchurch East

Williams, who is working with police to ensure their current behaviour is culturally sensitive and appropriate, said the apology was “long overdue”.

“It will help the wider Pacific community, but specifically Tongan and Samoan communities which were most affected. It will restore a sense that they do belong here in Aotearoa.”

As one of the older Pasifika MPs in Parliament, Williams has personal memories of the Dawn Raids as a teenager. “I remember seeing all the news reports. I was really aware of the difference that was being extended in our communities. I grew up in Ponsonby, it was pretty multicultural, and I never felt any different until that time. It started to make me feel as though there was something different about being a Polynesian kid.

She added that Pasifika were not the only people subjected to mistreatment during the Dawn Raids. 

“The thing I really wanted to talk to you about was the fact that it wasn’t just Pasifika. There were Māori who were impacted, Māori who were picked up off the street and had to prove that they were from here. It’s a bit of a hidden story,” she said.

“My sister’s father-in-law, a Māori gentleman from the Far North, was picked up and put in the cells overnight. And had to prove that he was Māori. And I remember that impacting on us: If you are of here and you are still not accepted, then there is something definitely wrong.”

Poto Williams and Tangi Utikere. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

Tangi Utikere, MP for Palmerston North

Utikere said every Pasifika family has a connection to the dawn raids. “Anyone who looked like they were of Pacific descent was targeted, which means all families experienced this unfortunate and shameful period in our country’s history.” As they were from the Cook Islands, Utikere’s family had New Zealand citizenship but that didn’t mean they escaped the brunt of unequal treatment of Pacific Islanders. “Many family members were allowed to be treated in a way that was in absolute conflict with the way other New Zealand citizens were treated.”

Utikere said many have been waiting a long time for this apology. “It will go a very long way towards healing the significant pain, hurt and embarrassment that many in our Pasifika community have endured for quite some time,” he said.

Teanau Tuiono, Green Party List MP

As a child of the generation most affected by the dawn raids, Tuiono grew up with activism on his doorstep. Many of his memories are of the Polynesian Panthers, who formed in response to the raids. “Later when it came to activism I realised you walk in the footsteps of those who came before you,” he said. “I acknowledge the emotions of our parents’ generation, who really bore the brunt of it. It’s important to recognise those who stood up.” 

He says the apology is a step in the right direction, but would like to see difficult parts of New Zealand’s history enshrined in the core history curriculum and amnesty for visa overstayers before he considers it substantive.

Teanau Tuiono. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

Carmel Sepuloni, Minister for Social Development and Employment and MP for Kelston

“The Dawn Raids served as a slap in the face to Pacific peoples.  Pacific people were actively contributing to the building of Aotearoa at that time but due to changing economic conditions, were all of a sudden perceived as a threat to the jobs and livelihoods of other New Zealanders and subsequently mistreated.

“Our community were forced to live in fear of the authorities, unable to feel safe – even in their own homes.

“It is a huge relief that our Government is taking the step to formally apologise. An apology acts as an acknowledgement of the wrong that was done and will play a role in healing the trauma caused by this dark part in our history.”

Carmel Sepuloni and Kris Faafoi. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

Justice Minister and Labour List MP Kris Faafoi said he did not have any personal memories of the Dawn Raids but was very happy about the news that an apology would take place. Poto Williams, Barbara Edmonds, Anahila Kanongata’a-Suisuiki, Dr Neru Leavasa and Jenny Salesa were unable to comment before publication.

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