Polynesian Panther Party founded

16 June 1971

Ngā Tamatoa and Polynesian Panthers members during anti-Vietnam War protest, Auckland, 1972
Ngā Tamatoa and Polynesian Panthers members during anti-Vietnam War protest, Auckland, 1972 (John Miller)

The Polynesian Panther Party was founded in Auckland by six young Pacific Islanders: Paul Dapp, Will ’Ilolahia, Vaughan Sanft, Fred Schmidt, Nooroa Teavae and Eddie Williams. The group included Samoans, Tongans, Cook Islanders, and a few Māori. Many were university students. Their headquarters were in Ponsonby, then the heart of the Auckland Pacific Island community.

The Polynesian Panthers’ influence grew throughout the 1970s and chapters were set up in South Auckland, Christchurch, Dunedin and Sydney. They were inspired by the Black Panther Party and made direct comparisons between the oppression of African Americans in the United States and the discrimination and marginalisation faced by Polynesians in New Zealand. Their platform was based on freedom through self-determination. They began by organising homework centres, tenancy support groups and community shows, to build a reputation for respectability. The Polynesian Panthers’ campaign against the dawn raids by police looking for people whose presence in the country was illegal remains one of the most potent examples of their party’s platform in action.

The spirit of the Panthers lives on in those who were part of the movement (‘Once a Panther always a Panther’). Melani Anae credits the group with empowering her and framing her values, especially an emphasis on education ‘as the tool that will lead us out of oppression and darkness and into the light.’ The Panther legacy continues with the Panthers’ Rap in Schools programme which began in the early 2000s. In recent years this has led to a new three-point platform:

  • To annihilate all forms of racism (peaceful resistance against racism)
  • Celebrate mana Pasifika (Pacific empowerment)
  • Educate to liberate (a liberating education)

Ricky Prebble

NZ On Screen

Polynesian Panthers documentary (2010)

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