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Jacinda Ardern apologises to New Zealand’s Pacific population for ‘dawn raids’ of 1970s6 min read

August 6, 2021 4 min read


Jacinda Ardern apologises to New Zealand’s Pacific population for ‘dawn raids’ of 1970s6 min read

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Borders have always been tricky. They are arbitrary lines drawn on the surface of the earth that are sometimes used to justify exclusion, war, and acts of inhumanity. Borders separate people from others by creating differences marked by language, skin-colour, culture and more.
We live in times where heterogenity and plurality should be celebrated, where there should be no room for hatred. This is why so many leaders around the world are apologising for the history written by their predecessors.

And now the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, has issued an apology to the Pacific population living in New Zealand for the ‘dawn raids’ of 1970s.

What are the dawn raids? Who are the Pacific people?
Before we dive into these questions, let’s take a detour to learn a little about New Zealand’s history.

The history of New Zealand

A Maori woman. Image: Britannica

The first settlers in New Zealand are believed to be Polynesian. Polynesia is a subregion of Oceania comprising of many small islands scattered over Central and Southern Pacific Ocean. People from the islands are called Polynesian or Pacifika. It is likely that they found New Zealand in 1200-1300 ACE while exploring the Pacific Ocean, navigated by the winds and ocean currents.

The first Dutch explorer arrived in 1624. It was only after 127 years that the next group of Europeans visited. After this, European traders began frequenting the island.

The Polynesian started calling themselves Maoris, which means ordinary, to distinguish themselves from the Europeans. In 1830s, before the French could make New Zealand a colony, the British settled there. In 1840, 500 tribal chiefs signed a treaty with Britain. But the Europeans forced the Maoris to sell their land leading to major conflicts in 1860s. A lot of Maori land was lost to the war.

New Zealand was growing economically, and in 1870, the Government helped a lot of British people settle in the country.

Gardiner, Thomas. Kororareka Beach, Bay of Islands, New Zealand. 1856

The country gained independent status in 1907.

People from the Pacific continued to migrate to New Zealand in lieu of better opportunities than their island nations could promise making up 7% of its population. 15% of New Zealanders are Maoris.

The Dawn Raids

After the Second World War, job opportunities and population pressure forced many Pacific people moved to New Zealand. During the 1970s, close to 15,000 immigrants were recorded every year in New Zealand from all parts of the world. Many moved here because of the demand for well-paid labour.

In 1973, the trade relations between New Zealand and United Kingdom were broken causing massive economic strain leading to tighter immigration laws. In 1970s, the New Zealand government clamped down upon the migrants who had overstayed their visa, specifically targeting the islanders.

The 1972 Panthers Protest. The Polynesian Panthers were a group of activists fighting racial discrimination.
Image: Canterbury

Studies have shown that other Americans and Europeans who had migrated to New Zealand were just as likely to overstay their visas in New Zealand. But the ‘dawn raids’ were dedicated to removing illegal Pacific islanders making it a pointed racist attack.

Many families were separated in the process as people were deported back to their islands.

These raids would happen early in the morning. The police would break into the homes of Pacific people at dawn to define their migration status. This is why they were called ‘dawn raids’.

The road to forgiveness

On August 1, Ardern issued a public apology for this blot in New Zealand’s history before an audience of hundreds of people.

Ardern being welcomed to the Apology ceremony. Image: The Guardian

The event started with a Powhiri, which is a Pacific welcome ceremony, followed by Ardern’s speech. Ardern addressed the gathering in four languages—te reo Māori, Tongan, Samoan and English.

I stand before you as a representative of those who did you harm…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.

Ardern, The Guardian
Ardern is covered in the symbolic request for forgiveness, representing her predecessors. Image: The Guardian

A new dawn

Ardern said she wants to ‘pave a new dawn’ for the Pacific communities in New Zealand. The government will offer $NZ 3.1m in scholarships to Pacific students. The ‘dawn raids’ will be included in the history curriculum. Support will be given to Pacific artists and historians who wish to document this part of New Zealand’s history.

What role do you think history plays in the way our world shapes up?
Why do you think it is important to take responsibility for what happened a long time ago?

With excerpts from The Guardian, The Guardian, and New Zealand and Now

Image: The Guardian

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