National | Activist

Polynesian Panthers reflect on 45 years

This year marks the 45th anniversary of Auckland-based rights group the Polynesian Panther Party.  Founding member Will 'IIolahia says while they've achieved much to improve the lives of Pacific Islanders and Māori, many families are still struggling.

Will 'IIolahia and other local Grey Lynn Pacific Islanders have been championing for better rights for Pacific Islanders and Māori since the 1970s.  He says the fight continues.

“There's actually probably more need now than there was in our days,” says 'Ilolahia, “At least we've wiped out the overt racism that was quite rampant here in Grey Lynn.”

The Polynesian Panthers have worked with former Māori rights group Ngā Tamatoa since they were formed.

“We've fed the children in Auckland and set up homework centres,” says former Ngā Tamatoa member Hone Harawira, “We've stood together to advocate for Māori treaty issues and we supported them during the removal of Pacific Islanders in the Dawn Raids.”

“The Te Reo petitions in the 70's- a lot of us Panthers, Pacific Islanders were actually the ones who were actually getting it out there,” says 'Ilolahia, “A lot of us were security on the land march, a lot of people don't know that I myself was arrested at Bastion Point.”

The Polynesian Panthers took inspiration from the African-American civil rights group, the Black Panthers, who were formed 50 years ago.

They were acknowledged by Beyoncé in a tribute song, Formation, at the Super Bowl earlier this year.

“Black lives matter is actually the present Black Panther policy,” says 'Ilolahia “And as we can see with all the shootings, they need it.”

“We continue to work together for the betterment of all our children of Polynesia,” says Harawira.

A new Pacific Panther Party has been established in Palmerston North to champion for Polynesian and Māori issues.