That was the objective behind a report commissioned by the Pacific Cooperation Foundation (PCF) into New Zealanders’ Perception of the Pacific reports Tagata Pasifika.
Executive Director David Vaeafe says the report is part of a new approach for the organisation to look at relationships, not only to amplify the voices of the Pacific but also to strengthen New Zealand’s identity as a Pacific nation.
Vaeafe says the report provides a snapshot of New Zealanders’ views today.
“When our parents and grandparents came here in the ‘50s and ’60s, New Zealand’s population was less than a million and our Pacific people came here for one reason only – to fill the gaps in the Labour market, especially in the factories.”
He says, with a history that dates back hundreds of years between Pacific and Maori and more recently a 75-plus year history between Aotearoa and the region, the relationship has continued to evolve.
“Putting (the report) together we thought we would address/ask the things about the history, the present, and the future because that’s important for this connection because it’s the ‘va’ (space) between us.
“A lot has happened and now you have a population of five million people and the population is so diverse even though the Pacific is 10 percent of the population…and the thinking is very, very different and it’s a different generation of New Zealanders.”
It has been almost two decades since the Pacific Cooperation Foundation was created. Their work has involved a broad range of areas including economic development, human rights, cultural preservation, and media training.
PCF is embarking on a new direction and Vaeafe says it has been a transformational process where they had to reinvent themselves.
“When we started 20-plus years ago there was no one else in this space that we were working in. We were doing everything from academic research and publications to bringing Prime Ministers and leaders on lecture series.
“We have had to redefine our niche, our added value…and the three objectives are strengthening identity; as Aotearoa New Zealand, as a Pacific nation. Protecting the relationship; that’s the mana and respect between Aotearoa and the region for those relationships of the past, and those in the future.”
Speaking at the launch of the report in Auckland last week, PCF Chair Anne Fitisemanu says they have reached a new milestone in their journey with the publication of the report.
“Pacific peoples make an invaluable contribution across a range of sectors including business, education, arts, sports and culture, but we still have a long way to go,” Fitisemanu says.
“Geopolitical tensions have seen the Pacific in the spotlight more so than ever, narratives related to the Pacific are often shaped by dominant media and nations, we felt it was important to hear the voice of the people to understand what New Zealanders think and to be able to inform discussion, debate any policy decisions going forward.”
Some key findings in the report include:
- Almost half of New Zealanders believe colonisation has had a negative impact on Pacific nations, while 34% viewed it as a positive
- Most new Zealanders have limited knowledge of the Pacific
- New Zealanders’ identity as Pacific peoples is hotly contested
- New Zealanders’ knowledge of Pacific people outside of media and sports is relatively weak
- There is a lack of knowledge of Pacific culture from many New Zealanders
- New Zealanders see broadly Indo-Fijians as Pacific People rather than Asian
- New Zealanders have low awareness of policies that involve and impact Pacific nations and peoples