Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

New Constitution on the cards for PACIFICA Women’s group as it looks to the future

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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Soana Aholelei | Reporter / Director

The vibrant colours and the sound of laughter and music enveloped the PACIFICA women’s council meeting in Tokoroa last month, the first such gathering since before the pandemic.

The theme of the conference was, “Women and Girls’ Resilience through Covid-19”, also doubling as the group’s annual meeting where Aucklander Repeka Lelaulu was elected the group’s National President. 

“This is the first branch to host AGM and those mamas are in their late eighties. But still the message is really strong and that’s my job now is to walk the pathway that they created for us,”Lelaulu says. 

Formed in the early 1970’s with leaders like the late Eleitino ‘Paddy’ Walker, it grew from year to year into a national organisation.  Now, only a few of the pioneers are left today, people like Samoan Toesulu Brown and Emeritus Professor Tagaloatele Peggy Fairbairn-Dunlop, a former president who is helping to rewrite the constitution for the next generation.  

Photo: Tagata Pasifika

“The Pacifica Constitution was formed in 1978; we became a proper incorporated society. Things in 1978 for Pacific women and families in New Zealand are quite different from the challenges we face today and what is happening in New Zealand society today,” says Fairbairn-Dunlop.

“So, for about the last five or six years we’ve been looking at redoing the Constitution.”

The first draft of the constitution was released at the AGM and is now out for consultation.

Many of the topics that were on the agenda in the 1970’s are still relevant today. 

The main discussion at the meeting was around women’s health, with prestations from public health physician and epidemiologist the Dr
Corina Grey as well as Gerardine Clifford-Lidstone the new head of the Ministry for Pacific Peoples

Photo: Tagata Pasifika

“Today we were talking about the health system and, you know, there’s been a lot of reforms, a lot of shake up,” says Clifford-Lidstone.

“For me, it’s just about participation. If we don’t have our communities contributing to the design of the system, then it won’t fit the needs as well as it could,” 

But there are also plenty of new issues facing women today, many of whom are second or third generation with a wider range of qualifications and skill sets. 

“It’s re-thinking of Pacifica’s role in New Zealand. Our members are a different brand from the members we had in the beginning. We’ve got a whole lot of resources now that we should really use in a more proactive way,” says Fairbairn-Dunlop

Numbers have also dwindled, what was once thriving with over 30 branches has been reduced to under 20 active branches and it begs the question, is PACIFICA still relevant today?

“Coming here, it just reinforces the value that we add to our daily lives. We are always going to be Tongans, we’re always going to be Samoans and that koloa (treasure) that we have, if we don’t share the living of that  experience with our future generations, then it will be lost,” says Aanahila Kanongata’a Susuiki, from the Maungakiekie branch in Auckland.

Photo: Tagata Pasifika

Out-going National President Reverend Alofa Lale agrees: “The youth learn more about their Pacific identity, especially because they’re not in the island of their origin, their parents and their grandparent’s origin.

“ It’s even more important for them to be able to feel that they have a sense of identity here in a country that is not their own, other than their country of birth.”

One of the younger members, Jessica Von Stetton, who is the Secretary of the Auckland Central Branch encourages the next generation to join PACIFICA.

“Every time I come here and come to these events, it’s always lovely networking with everyone and just hearing everyone’s own stories, their careers and where they really came from. It’s always a very enriching experience.”

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