A tapa cloth, tartan blend is how Pauline Smith describes her Samoan, Tuvaluan, Scottish and Irish ancestry.
At the start of this year, the Director of Mīharo Murihiku Trust (previously the Murihiku Māori and Pasifika Trust Cultural Trust), Author and arts advocate received a New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM) for her services to Pacific arts and the community.
Pauline’s heritage, along with a sense of justice and fairness, addressing marginalisation and a deep respect for the Polynesian Panthers, Nga Tama Toa, Rosa Parks, Malcom X, Dr Martin Luther King and so many more motivates her to do the work she has done over the years, she says.
Born at Mataura, about 10 minutes-drive south of Gore, Pauline now calls Riverton home.
Her location also provides a vision and goal for some of the work she does, as there are not many opportunities for young Pacific people to access Pacific arts and artists in the Deep South.
“I see the need for more opportunity in this area and ensuring there is equitable opportunity and access to Pacific arts and artists regardless of the area you live in is important to me.”
Pauline says her mahi stems from her experiences at Teachers’ College.
“Firstly, as a student teacher where I was awakened and learnt about the Treaty of Waitangi, Eva Richard, Dame Whina Cooper, Bastion Point and so much more history never featured in my education.
“After teaching for a time I returned to the Dunedin College of Education, Southland Campus as a Lecturer and took on the Pacific studies portfolio.
“This is where I developed my knowledge of the Polynesian Panthers, Dawn Raids, overstayers and wider Pacific history.”
In 2009, Pauline helped found the first Murihiku Polyfest, which led to the establishment of the Murihiku Māori and Pasifika Cultural Trust in 2010.
The 2009 Polyfest was a one-day event and Murihiku Polyfest has since grown to a week-long event including an annual art exhibition, community projects, art workshops for educators, youth and arts mentoring, with more than 7,500 Pacific, Māori and youth of all ethnicities performing to 40,000 attendees.
In 2019, she supported Fafine Niutao I Aotearoa, a group of elderly Tuvalu Kolose (crochet) artists, to travel from Auckland to attend the Murihiku festival in Invercargill.
She also authored the book Dawn Raid in 2018 for Scholastic’s My New Zealand Story series, highlighting the controversial raids on alleged Pacific overstayers and the activist work of the Polynesian Panthers, along with an education package to accompany the book.
Pauline says her first face to face meeting with Polynesian Panther Tigilau Ness has been a career highlight.
“Sitting at his kitchen table and hearing first-hand the stories and sacrifice he and so many others gave in the fight for justice,” she says.
The publication of her first book My New Zealand Story: Dawn Raid is another milestone.
“When it arrived in the mail it was like having my first child all over again - I took it everywhere with me, showed it to everyone and expected they would like it as much as I did,” she laughs.
Pacific art, people and culture belong in Aotearoa, and Pauline believes the arts are a tool to nurture wellbeing because they are a powerful vehicle for people to express cultural identity.
“Our Trust Patron Johnny Penisula says ‘art is, who we are, where we are and what we are’, while my friend Irene Schroder says, ‘art is life’ and I agree with them both.”
For now, the focus for Pauline is to educate to liberate Pacific Aotearoa.
“Information is power, and I think the Government's commitment to teaching New Zealand history in Aotearoa is a move in the right direction.
I speak to so many people of all ages who went through our education system who have little to no knowledge of significant parts of our history such as Bastion Point, Parihaka, the Dawn Raids, the Hikoi-Land March and so many more.
“We can do better, and I look forward to this progress.”
Meanwhile, the Mīharo Murihiku Trust is anticipating an exciting year, celebrating local treasure Senior Artist and Weaver Whaea Wini Solomon, partnering with Artist DEOW to deliver South Sea Spray Mōtuphue-Bluff, delivering two Polyfests, two art awards and exhibitions for young people and many more exciting programmes and events.
“We are ready for the arts to explode and flourish in the south.”
Also, Dawn Raid is due for release in the United States and the United Kingdom in March, plus the Dawn Raid exhibition is being featured as part of the Auckland Arts Festival.
To top it off, the Polynesian Panthers and Pauline will be travelling throughout Aotearoa delivering Panther Rapps - a programme detailing the history and impact of the work of the Panthers.
“It doesn't get much more exhilarating than touring with the very people you admire so greatly.”