During a Labour Party Conference held around the late 1990s, I was sitting with my Mangere Team experiencing my first conference, full of excitement and wonder at our amazing confident leader Hon Helen Clark. Our team was quite small at that time, with our MP the late Taito Philip Field and his wife Maxine and my late father and sister, part of the 15 strong team. I was new at the game and still green as grass when it came to understanding politics. I was a young Social Worker based at the then Mangere DSW. Still fresh in my memory banks, were the protesting days of the spring box tour and the dawn raids.
Nearing the end of Helens presentation, I leaned over and asked my sister Siniva, ‘did Helen mention the Pasifika Islanders at all in her speech.’ My sister just rotated her head to confirm my query. So off I went, I didn’t know what I was doing or what it would achieve, and I ended up heading towards Helen and sat on the stage in front of her. Dover Samuels had tried to stop me, but I side stepped him with my quick turkey step. When I was seated, with my heart pumping twice its regular pace, others had come forward to try and remove me. I heard Helen say,’ leave him, he’s Ok its James’.
When we returned to our motel function area, my dad and Taito were not impressed, although the rest of the team were congratulating me and asking why I did it. When I explained my view of Pasifika not being mentioned in the speech, dad said sternly, son you must apologize to our leader, and Taito agreed. Two weeks later we were in Hon Helen Clarks office with my father and sister and Taito, ready to apologize for my erratic, humiliating and rash action. After apologizing in front of my team to Helen, we were all shocked and surprised at her response. James, she said in her sisterly tone, thank you for your apology, which I accept, because your actions did unsettle me at the time, as I didn’t know what was happening. However, I am going to apologize to you and your team that came to our conference. I went through my speech papers, because I was sure I had acknowledged the Pacific Islanders contribution. But there was nothing there. I will make sure, from now on, through all my speeches, I will acknowledge the Pasifika community. I felt so humbled and proud at the same time, and my dads smile confirmed and validated Helen’s response.
Today, I feel like sitting on the stage again when Jacinda holds our next Labour Party conference. I know Willie Jackson will try and stop me, but he won’t, I’ll just sidestep him. My point is, our pasifika community are being left out again, at a crucial time, in an era never seen before with COVID-19 threatening us all. The most marginalized and frightened, the unseen and uncounted for, are my pasifika brothers and sisters. Hidden by mostly low-income families that are already stressed and suffering but will never give up their own. Now is the time to achieve what my friend Helen courageously did during her first term, an amnesty for our pasifika whanau that are already here.
James Papali’i: Raised in Mangere South Auckland, Auckland University 1984 BA and Massey University Post grad Diploma Social Policy 2002. Currently Social Worker for Manukau Urban Maori Authority working in Mangere and South Auckland. Founder of Manukau Outriggers Waka Ama 1988 and Portage Crossing Waka Ama club based at Mangere Bridge. Manukau City Councillor rep Mangere Ward….1998-2006