Loud bangs on doors in the darkness, dogs barking, lights flashing and the house being surrounded. People hiding in closets or running away. Kids who loved their uncles and cousins waking up one morning and finding they were gone.
The dawn raids of the 1970s were horrific, just terrifying. I don't think people today can fathom it. Some of the old people never talked about it. Ever. They just lived with that brokenness and carried on.
It showed we were nothing to governments, just a unit of production when they wanted the factories filled. Then when there was a recession and things got tight, we were the first to be targeted. Most overstayers were European but 80 per cent of people who were deported were Samoan or Tongan. It was a state-sanctioned act of racism.
I heard one story from a Samoan policeman at the time and he just cried because our people weren't treated like humans. They weren't even allowed to get dressed. We sleep in lavalavas and that would be all they had on. He did his best to give them clothes so they could cover themselves and have some dignity. I think the random police checks were even worse, being accosted on the street and asked for your passport.
Now, Pacific culture is being celebrated — the Pasifika festival, all the Pacific MPs, the flea markets at Ōtara. On the surface, everything seems to be okay. But what's happening to people? We're still at the bottom of the heap, according to all the economic indexes. It's exactly how it was back then, almost 50 years ago. That's what systemic racism is designed to do.
When I look out the window, I would like to see a different world than the one we grew up in as children. A different Auckland. And I think we're on the cusp of change. There's hope in this moment we're all living through.
For me, the Government apology for the dawn raids is the start of healing. It will honour those who have passed on, those who have been traumatised, the families who have been broken.
We're not after compensation, where just a finite few get the advantages. We see it as a long-term resourcing in education. Our Pacific history should be part of the school curriculum, at a time when young people are forming their understanding of the world and the truth of how society works.
Growing up, I didn't know about being political. We never spoke at the dinner table. In a Samoan household, you just eat quietly and leave — and eat everything on your plate, while you're at it. My parents were too busy just trying to survive. Dad worked six days a week as a foreman in a factory on Richmond Rd and was fiercely political in his work as a matai, the head of the family, but only in the Samoan space. In Palagi spaces, it was about being good citizens and doing well at school.
1970 was my annus horribilis — the worst year of my life. Five members of our family [including two siblings] were killed in a plane crash and my mum died of cancer. I took six months off school to look after her. Somehow I still managed to get Bursary and went to university the next year.
There's a Samoan word, "musu", that means obstinately silent, having walls up around you. I was torn between being a good Samoan daughter and lashing out at the world. My younger brother's way of coping was to join a gang; I could easily have gone that way, I was so rebellious and critical of everything.
My mate Etta [Schmidt] lived down the road from us in Grey Lynn and one night she told me to come to a meeting at her house, so I snuck out. That was the beginning of the Polynesian Panthers, on June 16, 1971, and it opened up another world to me. Until then, all I'd known was family, church and school.
It had a life-changing effect on me. The leaders were talking about injustice and police harassment. We had to read [Black Panther co-founder] Bobby Seale's book, "Seize the Time", and it felt like maybe we could fight back. Then Etta's parents came home early and everyone took off. People forget we were all just kids at the time.
Those three years, before the dawn raids, are what I call the crucible years, when the Panthers were at their strongest and fiercest. We had our community survival programmes in place, food co-ops and work centres, the PIG patrol [Police Investigation Group] and the TAB [Tenants' Aid Brigade], with almost 500 members across New Zealand.
Since then, some of us joined the police, some became musicians or ministers of religion or academics, but we've taken that platform and lived it: annihilate racism peacefully, celebrate your identity mana Pasifika, and educate to liberate.
For the past 10 years, a group of us have been working with schools to tell our story; we call it the Panthers' Rap. Most of the students have never heard about the dawn raids, but they see how we stood up then and that's a strong message. When you see racism, stand up. When you feel racism, stand up. Because you're not alone.
When the Mongrel Mob asked us to talk about our experiences as Panthers, the chief human rights commissioner, Paul Hunt, was there too. He spoke about his time in the Middle East, the terrible cluster bombs and how they take off limbs.
As he was speaking, I thought that even though we don't have wars like that in New Zealand, racism is like a cluster bomb for us here in Aotearoa. That's what internalised racism does, it breaks you up from the inside out. You start to believe those stereotypes, the racist taunts.
This is what Palagi will never understand — it's every day. You wake up to it, you go to school with it. Going to uni was so empowering in terms of knowledge. I remember thinking I wished the gang guys could come because they'd learn so much, and the anger and bitterness would be taken out of them.
What we're experiencing in the world now, with everything from Covid and blatant racism to climate change, I'm feeling how I did in the 70s with the anti-Vietnam War protests and burning bras. It's the space and time for change.
When Jacinda Ardern called that Australian a terrorist [after the Christchurch mosque massacre], I knew something was going to happen this year, because only non-white people were ever called terrorists. That's when I began to believe that we were in this moment where the impossible could happen.
— As told to Joanna Wane
Dr Melani Anae is an associate professor of Pacific Studies at the University of Auckland and a foundation member of the Polynesian Panthers, who celebrated their 50th anniversary this week. Her book "The Platform: The Radical Legacy of the Polynesian Panthers" was released last year.
After a campaign led by the Polynesian Panthers, including author Pauline Smith, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced she will make a formal Government apology for the dawn raids next Saturday at a commemoration event in the Auckland Town Hall.