Tears of joy, sadness and thankfulness were shed as the New Zealand government officially apologised for the Dawn Raids, writes PSA Pasefika co-convenor ‘Ofeina Manuel-Barbarich who represented our union at the historic event.
In the words of Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern, ‘an apology can never reverse what happened... but it can contribute to healing the Pacific peoples in Aotearoa’.
Today, I witnessed a government try to right the wrongs of the past in the best way that they know how - relying on their Pasifika leaders and the Pacific cultural capital within the Public Sector and the community.
I couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride for the way that the apology was conducted. ‘Pacific’ is an umbrella term, making the juggling of different cultural values and practices a complex job. What I witnessed was a great effort in acknowledging those who were discriminated against, especially our Samoan and Tongan communities, in an appropriate manner.
The apology was not just a matter of delivering a speech. The demonstration of fa’atoesega (apology) was a symbol of understanding and acknowledging the vā/relationship between the New Zealand government and Pacific peoples.
We are ‘Pacific neighbours’, the Princess of Tonga, HRH Mele Siu’ilikutapu Kalaniuvalu Fotofili reminded Prime Minister Arden. There was also the fangufangu, a musical instrument used in the evening but also for awakening - a symbol of a new dawn!
I also took my being there as a symbol. I was attending the Dawn Raids Apology, not as a migrant or a benefactor of immigration reforms; not as a former occupant of an overcrowded two-bedroom flat living with overstayers; and not as a niece, cousin or granddaughter of those who were raided at dawn.
I was there in an official capacity, to represent our union alongside PSA Pasefika co-convenor Ulualofaiga Mareko.
My official capacity (as I take it) is a symbol that we are moving in the right direction, where us as Pacific peoples, and our values and ‘worth’ are recognised and reflected in organisational settings and practices.
Today our PSA Pasefika Network has representation across our union structure. It is working to strengthen our Pacific representation in the Public Service and to close the pay gap for our Pacific peoples.
As I think of this new dawn, I reflect with a heart of thanksgiving for those who paid the price of discrimination and racial injustice.
Let the power of forgiveness unbind our invisible chains of hopelessness and look forward to a renewed feeling of worth and hopefulness.
Picture caption: PSA Pasefika co-convenor 'Ofeina Manuel-Barbarich (right) with Semisi Fifita from the Ministry for Pacific Peoples