Wellington: New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern sat motionless on Sunday (August 1) as members of the Pacific Island community pulled a large white mat over her head, completely covering her.
It was part of an emotional ceremony at the Auckland Town Hall during which Ardern formally apologized for a racially charged part of the nation’s history known as the Dawn Raids.
It’s when Pasifika people were targeted for deportation in the mid-1970s during aggressive home raids by authorities to find, convict and deport visa overstayers.
By being covered in the mat, Ardern was taking part in a traditional Samoan ritual known as an ifoga, in which the subject seeks forgiveness by exposing themselves to a kind of public humiliation.
Ardern told a tearful crowd of several hundred that the government was offering a formal and unreserved apology.
“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,” Ardern said.
At the time of the raids, many Pacific people had come to New Zealand on temporary visas to help fill a need for workers in the nation’s factories and fields.
But the government appeared to turn on the community by deciding those workers were no longer needed.
Ardern said that while the raids took place almost 50 years ago, their legacy continued. “It remains vividly etched in the memory of those who were directly impacted. 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.
Ardern said that as a gesture of goodwill, the government would fund new education and training scholarships for Pacific communities and would help compile an official account of the raids from written records and oral history.
(With inputs from PTI)