Huey P. Newton’s revolution may not have been televised, but his inspiration and message were certainly felt around the world.
When Newton and Bobby Seale created the Black Panther Party in 1966, six young Pacific Islander men took notice and in 1971 created The Polynesian Panther Party. The Polynesian Panthers were a revolutionary social justice movement dedicated to stopping racial inequalities carried out against indigenous Māori and Pacific Islanders in New Zealand.
Pacific Islanders is a term used to describe the Indigenous peoples of Oceania (Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia).
In the 1950’s New Zealand’s economy struggled, which led to an influx of Pacific Islanders moving to the island. These people of color drastically changed the make of Auckland, New Zealand–the city was no longer all white.
White supremacy in New Zealand began to rear its ugly head and Pacific Islanders were subjected to redlining, racial profiling, disproportionate incarceration, and segregation in the sports world.
Fred Schmidt, Nooroa Teavae, Paul Dapp, Vaughan Sanft, Eddie Williams, and Will ‘Ilolahia founded the Polynesian Panther Party on June 16th, 1971.
The group began by working with the community through activism, education, and legal aid. Their organization was grassroots to its core. One of their first acts as an organization was helping out with cooking and ticket collecting at the NZ University Students’ Association Arts Council Rock Festival.
The Panthers eventually organized homework and tutoring centers for Pacific children, created education programs centered around teaching indigenous people their rights as New Zealand citizens, and even created free meal programs, as well as food banks for hundreds of families.
Another important aspect of the Polynesian Panther Party was its stance on gender equality. The organization challenged gender norms and saw all sexes as equal. A woman could hold any position, job, status, or rank. The group also hosted gender equality workshops.
The Polynesian Panthers also organized a prison-visit program, which provided families the opportunity to visit their loved ones in prison. They sent folks to speak with the people behind bars who didn’t have a family to visit as well. They believed that even people in prison deserved to experience socialization and empathy.
They also created a Police Investigation Group Patrol, or PIG Patrol, which monitored police activity in the community. Since police would often patrol areas where Pacific Islanders would hang out, the Polynesian Panthers kept an eye on the police to make sure they didn’t harass the residents.
Although times have changed in New Zealand, the legacy left by The Polynesian Panthers still lives on.