The Polynesian Panthers Protests

New Zealand has both a recent and historical issue regarding the prevalence of racism in the country, in particular prejudice against low socio-economic areas which can make up a large portion of racial minorities. The Polynesian Panthers was a protest group that advocated for the rights of Pacifica peoples from its conception in 1971 and throughout the 1970’s. This was a politically motivated group that focused on grassroots, collective action and providing vital services that many Pacific people could not access through government support. The group had been known to protest against housing inequities and racism as well as provide food and legal support to the marginalized and opportunities for education that made a difference in the lives of Pacific Rangatahi (Mäori youth) at the time.

While the group did create important community-based initiatives, the Polynesian Panthers also undertook a significant role in furthering the protests against institutionalized and systemic racism in Aotearoa. It provided legal information on employment contracts to Polynesians in New Zealand to help them protect themselves against an unfair system, biased towards Pākehā (white New Zealanders). In the lives of Polynesians in New Zealand at the time, the influence of the Polynesian Panthers was far-reaching and significant, especially in advocating for equality and equity by providing information on the law. A group against classism, they also protested for the rights of Polynesian prisoners, youth, and women as marginalized groups in society. Subsequent media surrounded the Panthers’ influence and the significant impact that putting focus on these marginalized groups had on a generation of Pacific people in New Zealand. The group also led protests against the Dawn Raids, the police, and, as the last major target of the group, a protest against the Springbok Tour in 1981.

The Polynesian Panthers had a significant impact on the lives of Pacific Islanders in New Zealand through social justice, protests and grassroots activism, but also by providing community resources and support to a marginalized group in society that the government at the time actively aimed to target and discriminate against.