Was it a vigil, a political rally - or both?

Speeches calling out racism, colonialism and white supremacy at an Auckland vigil for victims of the Christchurch mosque attacks had some attendees leaving early, saying it was "too soon" for such discussions.

But organisers and speakers have defended what some called a "political" tone of the Jummah Remembrance vigil held at Auckland Domain on Friday, saying they were "hard truths" Aotearoa needed to address.

Thousands attended the vigil, where official speakers strongly challenged the rallying cry that last week's atrocity that killed 50 Muslim worshippers and injured dozens more was "not us".

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Muslim and tāngata whenua speakers covered experiences of everyday racism and violence they face, and spoke to New Zealand's white settler history and colonial violence.

Sharon Hawke, of Ngāti Whātua Orakei, said hatred existed in New Zealand.

"White hatred is its foundation."

She spoke of atrocities committed against Māori throughout New Zealand's history, including at Parihaka, and even Okahu Bay in Auckland in the 1950s, where the Auckland Council burned down her hapū's village.

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Thousands mourn the fallen victims of the Christchurch mosque shootings at Auckland Domain vigil

Israa Falah of the Auckland Muslim community said the Christchurch massacre was the result of the normalisation of xenophobia.

People should call out racism when they saw it, she said.

Zainab Mussa attended the vigil with her two young children but they left early partly because of the "uncomfortable tone".

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"Even being non Pākehā, I did feel uncomfortable at times with the continued mentions of white extremism and white terrorism."

AUT students Levonne Heka, Summer Tomai and Vaivasa Ualesi at the Auckland Domain vigil on Friday. Photo / Cherie Howie
AUT students Levonne Heka, Summer Tomai and Vaivasa Ualesi at the Auckland Domain vigil on Friday. Photo / Cherie Howie

While she said she understood the need for a conversation about racism and white supremacy, she felt a week after the attacks was too soon.

"I think there was too much mention of 'white' and colonial times. To me that wasn't a remembrance of the victims and not the way to push for unity."

Another attendee said they left early because they wanted the vigil to be more focused on the victims.

"No one disagrees the conversations need to be had, just not last night.

"That vigil was important to Aucklanders. It was important to me, to collectively show respect and love to the victims and the Muslim community, to weep quietly at the insanity and savagery of it, to be human and together in that response."

Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson, who also spoke at the vigil, said rather than it being "too soon" it was actually "too late" to be having these conversations.

"People are already dead, it is too late.

"A lot of people wanted to separate what happened in Christchurch from politics, but if we have any hope of truly honouring those who passed we need to listen to our Muslim, Māori, Pacific and migrant communities, all saying this is not just about a violent shooter, but about everyday racism."

She said she was "optimistic" though, as even though some people left early, most said it was more about timing.

"I know that it felt like such hard truths for many. I know this is uncomfortable. I am optimistic because I hear most of you who left in protest, saying it was more about timing.

"These were the voices from the front line of everything we need to heal."

This view also appeared to resonate with many Pākehā who attended the vigil.

Auckland man Jake Law said he stayed until the end, and as Pākehā he needed to listen to the voices of those directly affected by racism.

"This is the reality facing minorities, immigrants, Māori and people of colour in New Zealand. White people need to shut up, and listen to the voices of those who are directly affected."

The event was jointly-organised by Migrants Against Racism and Xenophobia (MARX), Racial Equity Aotearoa, Shakti NZ, Asians Supporting Tino Rangatiratanga and Auckland Peace Action.

MARX member Mengzhu Fu said it was unclear how many left because of the tone of the event, or because of other commitments. The event was not only speeches, but included kāranga from Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei, prayer, and tributes to the 50 deceased.

"Despite the people who left, thousands more stayed right til the end and we want to appreciate all those who listened and grieved with us," Fu said.

She defended the comments by the speakers, all either Muslim or tāngata whenua, who were giving their "honest and raw responses to what happened".

"This was perhaps not the Pākehā-style vigil some people expected," Fu said.

"We chose to centre the voices of people who have been most affected by white supremacist terrorism.

"Perhaps for the Pākehā who left 'in protest', this beautiful show of solidarity between tāngata whenua, Muslims and migrants of colour is what threatened you the most."