Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern expressed the Government's "sorrow, remorse and regret" over the Dawn Raids from which she said members of our Pacific communities continue to "suffer and carry the scars".
Hundreds of people are attending the formal apology at Auckland's Town Hall today, including families who were impacted by the raids, dignitaries, community groups like the Polynesian Panther Party, young Pasifika activists and Government officials, including the Minister of Pacific Peoples, Aupito William Sio.
During the apology, Ardern also announced a series of scholarships for Pacific students and for young leaders from Sāmoa, Tonga, Tuvalu and Fiji.
A blanket of emotion covered the room as the opening ceremony for the apology played the sounds of families in fear, dogs barking, people beating on doors, and crying children, with the audience reflecting on the terror of the raids.
The Dawn Raids began in 1974 when the then Labour government, faced with an economic downturn, clamped down on people overstaying their work visas. The raids were continued by the National Party.
Today's opening ceremony consisted of an ifoga, a traditional Sāmoan ceremony in which people ask for forgiveness or receive forgiveness. Otherwise known as a reconciliation protocol, this was a big moment for Sāmoan communities who were impacted by the dawn raids.
Ardern said was very clear that the "immigration laws of the time were enforced in a discriminatory manner and that Pacific peoples were specifically targeted and racially profiled when these activities were carried out".
The memory of the raids remained "vividly etched in the memory of those who were impacted by them", she said.
"It lives on in the disruption of trust and faith in authorities, and it lives on in the unresolved grievances of Pacific communities that these events happened and that to this day they have gone unaddressed," she said.
"Today, I stand on behalf of the New Zealand Government to offer a formal and unreserved apology to Pacific communities for the discriminatory implementation of the immigration laws of the 1970s that led to events of the Dawn Raids," Ardern said.
"The Government expresses its sorrow, remorse and regret that the Dawn Raids and random police checks occurred and that these actions were ever considered appropriate," she said.
The Government conveyed its "deepest and sincerest apology".
Ardern said that in many cultures - includes Pacific cultures - words alone are not sufficient to convey an apology.
"We acknowledge the enduring hurt that has been caused to those who were directly affected by the Dawn Raids, as well as the lasting impact these events have had on subsequent generations. I have heard that, for many people, the hurt was so deep that nearly 50 years later it's a struggle to talk about. We recognise that no gestures can mend that hurt," she said.
Ardern hoped that a series of offers from the Government would be accepted "to pave a new dawn, and a new beginning for the Pacific peoples of New Zealand".
These included the development of a history of the Dawn Raids for use in schools where members of the community would be able to share their experiences.
"May this opportunity help future generations gain knowledge and understanding that will help them ensure the mistakes of the past are not ever repeated again," she said.
The Government will also offer $2.1 million for education scholarships and fellowships to Pacific communities and $1 million in Manaaki NZ Short Term Training Scholarships for young leaders from Sāmoa, Tonga, Tuvalu and Fiji.
Ardern hoped that today's apology would bring "much-needed closure and healing" for New Zealand's Pacific communities.
She offered her deepest acknowledgements and respect to all those impacted by the harm caused by the Dawn Raids – including those "who continue to suffer and carry the scars".
"It is my sincere hope that this apology will go some way in helping the Pacific youth of today know, with certainty, that they have every right to hold their head up high, and feel confident and proud of their Pacific heritage, and in particular the sacrifices their parents and grandparents have made for Aotearoa New Zealand," she said.
Princess Mele Siu'ulikutapu Kalaniuvalu Fotofili of the Kingdom of Tonga said the Government's apology was a step in the right direction after an era of racist and unjust immigration policy.
"They targeted my people at dawn. And to raid them was a policy-driven initiative," she said.
"The trauma and impact of the dawn raids has been intergenerational. It has haunted my community for years. It will be for years to come, if we are not going to do the right thing."
She addressed Ardern directly: "Let me assure you, that we have accepted that some of our people at the time, were at the wrong side of the law."
But she says it did not mean it was necessary to unleash dogs on Pasifika communities.
"An apology is a step in the right direction," she said. "I am sure my community is also grateful for the gifts. The gifts symbolise the intention to mend the mark with my community. In that regard I accept your apology."
She also asked the Government to consider the petition for pathways to residency for overstayers
"This is a new dawn for my community and the Pacific community at large," she said.
Next to speak was Reverend Alec Toleafoa, a founding member of the Polynesian Panthers.
"Over the last 10 years we have taken our educate to liberate platform into many schools," he said.
"And we are grateful that so many of those students and teachers are with us today.
"We have gone into these places to support the teachers and the learners and their studies about the Dawn Raids. Many of the schools have benefited from the knowledge of our lives' experiences of the Dawn Raids.
"Books have been written by the Panthers who are here today. These have become valuable resources in support of teaching for the Dawn Raids.
But, he added: "A frequent response we have from students is disbelief that anything like the Dawn Raids could actually happen, and appalled that it happened in Aotearoa NZ."
"Sadly there is a generation of youth, Pasifika youth in particular who sadly have no knowledge of our history.
"This comment comes from a Year 13 student last week: 'I don't think much of our generation knows much about our past and it feels weird that there's a part of history that we aren't told about'.
"We need healing, and we need it now," Toleafoa said.
"The first step for healing is an apology. This is a very special moment for the PPP as well as our communities.
"The call and the stand against racism over the span of 50 years, has put many of our members at risk of their freedom.
"But we have been privileged to stand for those who cannot speak for themselves. We have been privileged to represent, in this case, the survivors of the Dawn Raids.
"It is not just Pacific communities that need healing. For healing to be effective, the Government must heal itself."
Toleafoa says families have finally been able to open up about the past to one another. That in itself is a step of healing, he said.
"I'll try not to choke on this … We give thanks to the leader of the opposition for supporting the apology.
"We honour the memory of the spirit of those who cannot be here today. Rest in power and peace to your descendants."
The call for the apology
Earlier this year a call was made by Pasifika activist group, the Polynesian Panther Party, for the Government to make a formal apology.
It gained tremendous support but pressure mounted after two men led a petition for it to be effective immediately.
In an open letter to Ardern, Benji Timu, who delivered the petition, wrote the raids led to generational trauma and that it set the standard in how New Zealanders perceived Pasifika communities.
He said the raids were a foundation in which the mistrust began between Pacific peoples and authority figures like police and the government. But an apology is a step forward for growth.
Polynesian Panther Party founding member Dr Melani Anae says New Zealand's social and political climate during the 1970s was "one of racial tension and unrest as police and immigration authorities victimised Pacific Islanders they suspected of abusing their visas".