The 1970s dawn raids on overstaying Pacific Island workers are a pivotal moment in the development of Pacific consciousness in New Zealand, according to two leading figures considering the development of Pacific music in this country.
Oscar Kightly feels that the involvement of the police enforcing immigration and visa rules had a terrible effect on the way police were viewed by Pacific communities:
“Straightaway that gave us a relationship with the police that was kind of negative. I remember at primary school when the policeman came and everybody was so thrilled and I was so scared. I thought ‘O my God, I’m in trouble. What’s he here to do?’ But he was just here to show us the white helmet and blue helmet and tell us the difference.”
For musician Tigilau Ness, his experience of the police searching his house for an overstaying cousin spurred him into social action.
He considered the actions of the state to be part of a wider international picture of oppression, commenting:
“They did that in South Africa with the apartheid system to black people, they did that in America to black people, they did that all over the world to coloured people. Now they’re doing it to us.”
So, along with other activist groups, the Polynesian Panthers (whose name and motivation was inspired by the USA’s Black Panthers) decided on action directed against those who had instituted the dawn raids. At three o’clock in the morning, they would drive up to a politician’s house. “We’d rock up with loud hailers and spotlights,” he says. Ness recalls going to the home of Bill Birch (then a senior figure in the National Government led by Rob Muldoon) and calling out on a loud hailer “Bill Birch, come out with your passport now!”
Read more information on the Auckland Museum’s exhibition about Samoa, New Zealand and the First World War.