Tuesday, 2 February 2021

Polynesian Panthers

This year begins with a new part to my educator journey. I am now teaching at: Weymouth Primary School. Today was the first teacher call back day for Professional Development and it was hosted at James Cook High School in Manurewa.

We were greeted by two (founding) members of the Polynesian Panthers: Dr. Melanie Anae and Alec Toleafoa. Tigilau Ness was absent. They presented us with the "Our Living Room" workshop. Our Living Room is used in the context of how most Polynesian families gather in their living rooms to sing, pray, meet, talk, laugh, present news and build family connections together. To most Polynesian families "our living room" is where decisions and memories are made, and it is an intimate time for family gatherings.

Alec Toleafoa talked about the history of racism and prejudices that he and many others faced back in the 1970s. There was some discussion around what our grandparents, parents faced when they first migrated to New Zealand. He also spoke about the term "black birding in Niue". This resonates with me because I am of Niue descent. To my understanding "black birding", for example is when  people from other countries ie. Peru sailed (hundreds of year ago) and took by coercion or kidnapping, some Niue people back to their countries to work as slaves.

There was some discussion of the Mau Movement in Samoa and how the New Zealand government (at the time) was trying to take over their country by removing the systems and take over what the people of Samoa already had in place. This is an example of where the analogy of the living room makes sense, that the government was trying to take over "our living room".

During the presentation Dr. Melanie Anae spoke about the early migration of Pacific people to New Zealand. Since the 1950s, many Samoans came to New Zealand under the impression that "this was the land of milk and honey" and that "the streets were made of gold". Unbeknown to them they were the ones that would sweep these streets. This then led to the discussions of 'Dawn Raids' in the mid 1970s. Due to the Great Depression world wide, the Dawn Raids were the governments way of deporting Samoan/ Tongan families back. However, our Polynesian people came to fill the labour needs at the time.

The home truths of our young people and how they've had to grow up in a society where they are not New Zealanders because they are Pasifika but not Pasifika because they were born here in New Zealand and cannot speak their languages.

Dr Melanie also explained racism using the text 'a theoretic framework and a gardener's tale' by Camara Jones (2000). Institutionalised racism is unearned privilege, societal norms and initial historic insults to name a few. Personally mediated racism is intentional/ unintentional, maintain structural barriers and condoned by societal norms. Internalised racism which reflects systems of privilege, erodes individual sense of value and undermines collective action.

Questions that we discussed in groups:

* How would you teach the need to annihilate racism?

* What is Pacific empowerment and how would you teach it?

* Why do you want to 'educate to liberate?'

There was a general consensus with the ideas that were shared around the room. A few that stood out for me were: breaking down barriers so our children are empowered and their culture valued. Changing mindsets and misconceptions that  children of Maori/ Pasifika descent are able to achieve and aim for more than societal expectations. Encouraging our children to be critical thinkers and challenging/ researching what they are being told by educators and other outside influences.

I thoroughly enjoyed the session with Polynesian Panthers. I would also like to acknowledge all those groups that came before and are still working for the good of Polynesian people here in Aotearoa, New Zealand. They have helped to shape and highlight matters of importance to us as Maori/ Pasifika people. I am inspired to learn more about these movements and it has made me reflect on what I can do to help our children of tomorrow.