As the piercing sound of the karanga calling forth the Prime Minister’s party echoed from the foot of the Auckland Town Hall stairway to the Great Hall on Sunday 1 August, the scene was set for one of the most significant events in Pacific history in Aotearoa.
The gathering of more than 1,400 people representing all parts of the Pacific Communities and ages, provided the backdrop for the Government to formally apologise for the targeted discrimination of Pacific peoples, almost 50 years later, for what was known as the Dawn Raids of the 1970’s.
It marked the culmination of careful planning to bring together Government representatives, Pacific communities, royalty, mana whenua, cultural groups, spiritual leaders and performers for the historic occasion, and in doing so, set in motion, a process for forgiveness, reconciliation and healing between Government and Pacific communities, and those people who were directly and indirectly impacted by the impacts of the Dawn Raids.
Secretary for the Ministry for Pacific Peoples, Laulu Mac Leauanae says” despite the challenges of tight timeframes, coupled with unforeseen events, like the change in COVID-19 Alert Levels that affected the Wellington region, the project team made up of community and Ministry for Pacific Peoples representatives, knew they could deliver an event the community would be proud of.”
“What was amazing was the spirit with which our communities approached this opportunity. They were keen to be part of the occasion and all offered a perspective of what they could contribute, which was incorporated into the programme for the event,” says Laulu.
“The key was to deliver an event that was genuine and heartfelt, weaving into the programme, elements that made sense to our communities, both culturally and spiritually.”
The role Mana whenua played was vital as the apology was taking place on their land, while the role of young people who would take on the mantle of leadership going forward, was another consideration.
The community’s contribution was formidable and poignant, from the Ponataki e Atu Toa Niue’s Takalo war dance to the the Cook Islands Community of Auckland’s Pu, Pe’e and ‘Imene.
One of the most powerful images of the day involved members of the community who were directly affected by the Dawn Raids, lifting off the fine mat which had been placed over the Prime Minister, as part of the fa’amaulaloga (seeking forgiveness with humility).
“You could feel the impact of that act within the Great Hall, the genuine emotion from our communities and the Prime Minister, as she knew how much that act alone, meant to those who had been affected,” says Laulu.
“There were so many examples of what this occasion meant for our community, from the melodies of the fangufangu marking the transition to a new dawn, to the fa’atoesega and the Prime Minister’s speech offering a formal and unreserved apology to Pacific communities for the way immigration laws were implemented in the 1970’s that led to the events of the Dawn Raids.
The Sua ceremony, the highest honour of gifting for special occasions in the Samoan custom, was used to formally deliver the Government’s gestures of goodwill and reconciliation, including the development of an historical account of the Dawn Raids as well as education and short-term training scholarships.
The response by the audience to the sulatoga, the young woman from McAuley High School acknowledging the fine mats gifted to the community as part of the sua ceremony, was a highlight, as was the compelling singing that rang out in the Great Hall in response to community leaders including HRH Princess Mele Siu’ilikutapu Kalaniuvalu Fotofili, Mrs Toesulu Brown and Reverend Alec Toleafoa representing the Polynesian Panthers, who spoke on behalf of the community.
“The event would not have been the same without our communities, from start to finish, the leaders who conducted the spiritual service, Marina Alefosio’s riverting spoken word, “Raiding the Dawn,” young performers Tone 6 who combined with the Free Church of Tonga Choir and Brass band for a stirring rendition of “It is Well”, a fitting finale, and the families directly affected by the Dawn raids who sat in the front rows and witnessed an occasion they waited nearly 50 years for,” says Laulu.
“Every single person involved brought their uniqueness and their families with them. It was an emotional day for those who were privileged to be part of this special occasion and reinforced what the day was about - humility, forgiveness and acceptance.”