The Polynesian Black Panthers
Executive Producer Eddie Conway interviews members of the Polynesian Black Panthers at the 50th Anniversary in Oakland.
EDDIE CONWAY: Welcome to The Real News. I’m Eddie Conway and we’re in Oakland, California, at the 50th Anniversary of the Black Panther Party Reunion. And we are looking at and talking to the Polynesian Black Panthers who organize and follow in the example of the Black Panther Party and its philosophy.
WOMAN 1: It actually was okay to be strong(?). It was okay to actually stand up for and actually say, “No.” You know, it’s actually okay to not have to always smile and bow my head. It’s okay to get up and actually stand up and fight, to make sure that actually what you knew was right would actually be heard.
EDDIE CONWAY: Do you want to tell us a little bit about the Polynesian Panthers and the work that you’re doing. Anista Jabrava(?) up there said that you were honored for doing some of the work around women and girls issues around violence. So do you want to tell us a little bit about that?
WOMAN 1: Yeah sure. So, at the moment, the commendation that he’s talking about is I’ve got a Queen’s Service Order from the government that recognizes my work around anti-violence against women and girls.
WOMAN 2: You know, colonization has played a huge part in actually how women are treated. And even within our communities, raising those as issues and being able to challenge them with … into the wider community.
WOMAN 1: The Polynesian Panthers for me was an encouragement. Encouraged me to actually be doing what I’m doing, being proud to the Samoan, standing up for the rights of young Pacific and Mauri people in … New Zealand.
EDDIE CONWAY: Yeah, but why did you travel thousands of miles to come to the 50th Anniversary of the Black Panther Party?
MAN 1: Yeah, good question, yeah. A good question and easy question, ’cause I needed to say thank you for inspiration, for in times… for leadership and also giving that hope. And others experiences of sufferings which may have been in jail. We’ve lost people here defending rights, for standing up for things. It just gave us the ability to say if any other time to come to acknowledge that and give thanks, this is the time to do it.
EDDIE CONWAY: During the heyday of the Black Panther Party, which is probably considered from ’68 to ’70, because even though the Black Panther Party started in ’66 it took a couple years for it to catch the imagination of people in the world. During those years of ’68 to ’70, I think the Black Panther Party spread around the world to various different cultures and various different people. It spread to Israel because they looked at the example that the Black Panther Party was setting and decided that they needed to address their issues. It spread into Africa, into Algeria. It spread into Europe. It spread into the Caribbean. So the Polynesians who were in New Zealand and Australia, that was organizing around their conditions being an oppressed people, and an exploited people, looked at the example of the Black Panther Party and decided that they would use the philosophy, the ideology, the 10-point platform and program and to follow their struggle in terms of self-determination and human rights.
Obviously, you’ve been a Polynesian Panther for a long, long time. How long have you been doing this and why did you start?
MAN 2: I’ve been doing this for at least 45 years now and I started because I wanted to help my people, simple as that. The government was taking land off Mauri people, passing laws where Mauri people couldn’t build on their own land, and therefore it became vacant, therefore it became useless, you know. So they claimed it. And under various war acts, you know, they wanted to claim it for military purposes and that.
EDDIE CONWAY: And so, they sent people to Oakland to the national headquarters and they learned. And, in turn, we sent people out there to help train and organize and teach them the critical things about the Party that we thought they could apply to their society.
MAN 3: We look in terms of education, health, accommodation, all these things are community concerns or community ideals that need to be upheld and I believe that comes under the level of socialism. Yes, we are very socialistic in that sort of way, but we also have an understanding of there is a sacredness that goes, a spirituality, that is part of our people that we understand, too, as well.
MAN 4: They’re our comrades and that’s the relationship. We are comrades and you can see the similarities in their lives through the oppression that they’re confronted with in their country as the same as the repression we’re confronted with in our country. And some of the same issues, you know, the Pacific Islanders, the highest rate of those incarcerated, the highest rate of those in unemployment, the highest rate of those with health problems, health issues. So, there’s no difference in the context of the ongoing struggles and challenges that we’re both confronted with.
MAN 5: The Black Lives Matter and it has to be… so my brother spoke to me about the reasons why we’re coming here and what we need to do. But the other reasons why we need to come here is to show you our love and solidarity to the other people here. You are our people. And you matter to us. Indigenous peoples are worth it. Everything, it all just comes back to relationship to life, to love, all these things that, I think, they try to distract us from so they can have power over us.
WOMAN 3: The issues are the same. It doesn’t matter whether we’re in … or New Zealand, or whether you’re in America, whether you’re in the UK. I speak sometimes in the UK and it’s the same for black people. Racism exists in the same way. The way we get treated by the state… it’s the same. It’s no different. So standing up for rights whether they be in Dakota, whether they be in New Zealand, whether they be here in America or in the UK, means it’s a positive thing for us. The struggle is the struggle — it doesn’t matter where we are.
EDDIE CONWAY: Forty-five years later, they’re still in the midst of organizing and there are several generations now involved. The initial organizers are grandparents. Their children are parents. And their children’s children, grandchildren are also involved in organizing. So, it’s been one of the most successful Blank Panther Party international efforts.
WOMAN 3: We have an international perspective because Westside Samoans that live in … New Zealand, it gives us international perspective. What happens in the rest of the Pacific is really important. Actually, what happens anywhere in the world where it connects to the Pacific Ocean, has an interest for us because whilst there’s nuclear testing in the Pacific, what’s happening to our people? There are lots of Samoans here in America that intermarried with other nations and so we have an interest in what happens to our people.
MAN 6: Already I hear that US Naval ships are now heading towards Oakland, being allowed by the New Zealand government to go into New Zealand territorial waters. It’s been banned for at least 37 years since the anti-nuclear stance that New Zealand took with its government, Labor government at the time. The government now is allowing this to happen again, so I guess like you hear on the panel discussion there today, some of us will be out on the waters protesting about, you know, the nuclear ships being allowed to come back in and that’s a reflection on the New Zealand government, as well, you know?
WOMAN 1(?): So, we will be continuing to … rights. We can’t help it, and you know it has to be that way. And we have a younger generation coming up that, you know… What are you Generation X or Generation Z?
WOMAN 1(?): Yeah, but you know, we’ll carry on. We’ll always be there to guide them because, you know, we can’t give up until freedom, until we get our freedom in our own country.
EDDIE CONWAY: Thank you for joining me at The Real News.