I don't remember exactly when I found out about the Dawn Raids.
Like a lot of local history, it wasn't something I learnt at school.
My own parents followed a different settlement route from the waves of Pacific labour-related migration in the 1950s and 60s. Once here, like others who'd left home for a chance at a different life, they connected with family and community.
For them, and the tens of thousands who'd chosen to live in Aotearoa, I don't imagine the targeting of families through the 1970s would've been an easy conversation topic.
Perhaps that's why it's unclear how I first heard about the racist policies of the Kirk and Muldoon governments. Looking back, the 1981 Springbok tour seems far more familiar when discussing recent events that helped shape this nation.
What does stick out is coming to grips with how much I didn't know. That's not to say I was totally unaware. Just it became glaringly obvious during one required, but relatively elementary, university politics paper there was a bit more to the anti-Pacific attitudes of the 1970s and 80s than I knew.
I remember watching one of the infamous National campaign cartoons where Pacific migrants are blamed for rising crime and violence. It's teaching purpose was to demonstrate sentiment in politics at the time. A few people in the room vocalised disgust at how blatantly racist it was. I also sat there doing the maths. "Wow, that wasn't even that long ago," I thought.
After that, it was a gradual process of schooling up on how communities I belonged to were targeted by government policies and actions only decades earlier. Of course, I learnt more about the Polynesian Panthers, and how integral their work has been to evening the field for Pacific families and other marginalised groups.
The details of that period also helped me understand the different and ongoing forms of anti-Pacific racism, and generational tension among our own families and communities. That seemingly never-ending experience gap between those who grew up in their ancestral lands and went on to build a life here, and those (like me) who view Aotearoa through an entirely different perspective.
Over the years, it's also meant being able to contextualise the struggle and successes of Pacific communities in Aotearoa. In particular, where we fit in the wider framework of race relations and human rights progress. Even as a naive student, it didn't take long to find a tangible example of how the Panthers had made life easier. After a few too many encounters with absent/ walled-off property managers and landlords, it was pretty awesome to draw a line between my knowledge of renter rights and the work of the Panthers' Tenants Aid Brigade all those years ago.
More recently, it's been about understanding how the Panthers continue to influence progress. I attended one of the group's "Educate to Liberate" sessions at a secondary school last year. It wasn't long after high school students in South Auckland held a rally to end inter-school violence, and a few months after the Auckland Black Lives Matter protest.
Students at the session brought up the ongoing difficulties around shifting inequality and connected problems in their communities with original Panthers members Dr Melani Anae and Reverend Alec Toleafoa. One student touched on the often striking lack of outside support when it came to social justice issues in South Auckland.
Anae used the Panthers' history to show change was achievable, and like their original struggle, those directly affected would need to be the ones to drive it.
For everyone in the room, it added another layer to issues young Pasifika are advocating for today. For me, it also showed the immeasurable value of the Panthers' work.
After five decades, fighting for a fairer and more just Aotearoa has seen them go from illegitimate radicals to educators. They've excelled in individual careers and learnt to influence change in institutions they've been part of. They've achieved official government recognition that targeting of Pacific families in the Dawn Raids era was wrong. Staying true to their values, they've also continued to push for Pacific Studies to be a compulsory part of the school curriculum.
On that basis, it's exciting to think what the next 50 years will bring - especially once the Panthers tick off their current goal.