New Zealand has moved to redeem the sins of its past, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern issuing a formal state apology for historic racist policing of Pacific people.
On Sunday, hundreds packed Auckland Town Hall to hear a fulsome apology for the “dawn raids” of the 1970s.
Government of both political stripes oversaw the raids, when people of colour were racially profiled as authorities chased for visa overstayers.
Studies have since shown Pacific peoples were no more likely to overstay their visas than migrants from the US and UK, but much more likely to be prosecuted.
The state-backed discrimination and subsequent deportations separated families and devastated communities.
“It was so painful,” said Pacific Peoples Minister Aupito William Sio, who lived through the raids.
“Some nights it was 3, 4am … there was a banging noise at the front door and in (the police would) come.
“I remember walking down our street and some of the other older kids, they’d taunt us. They’d say ‘Go home, coconut’. That was the atmosphere.
“Even today my father can’t talk about it … so many have felt so much shame.”
The apology featured many traditional elements of the Pacific and Aotearoa.
After a powhiri – with speeches, song and the Maori hongi greeting between community and government leaders – Ms Ardern addressed the full house in four languages: Maori, Tongan, Samoan and English.
“I stand before you as a representative of those who did you harm,” she said in Samoan.
“While no amount of rain can remove the bitter salt from the ocean waters, I ask you to let our spiritual connectedness soften your pain, and allow forgiveness to flow on this day.”
Memories and tears
As many in the crowd wept, Ms Ardern said she felt the flow-on effects from the dawn raids in the present day.
“It remains vividly etched in the memory of those who were directly impacted. It lives on in the disruption of trust and faith in authorities, and it lives on in the unresolved grievances of Pacific communities.
“Today, I stand on behalf of the New Zealand Government to offer a formal and unreserved apology to Pacific communities for the discriminatory implementation of the immigration laws of the 1970s that led to the dawn raids.”
Ms Ardern said she wanted to “pave a new dawn” for Pacific communities, announcing $NZ3.1 million ($A2.9 million) in scholarships to Pacific students both in New Zealand and the region.
The government will also incorporate the dawn raids into the history curriculum, and support Pacific artists and historians to create an official record of the mistreatment.
Sunday’s formal apology follows two others issued by New Zealand, both by former PM Helen Clark.
The first was to Chinese immigrants who for many years were asked to pay a specific tax, and the second was to Samoa for mistreatment during New Zealand’s colonial administration.