Aotearoa, a series of islands at the edge of Te-Moana-Nui-a- Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), tells me that there is Kiwa or the Pacific Ocean, has a long and layered relationship with the Pacific. As historian Mary Boyd points out, it’s taken New Zealand a long time “to make up its mind that it was a Pacific country and not a European outpost,” because as scholar Alice Te Punga Somerville reminds us, New Zealand itself once was Pacific. However, longstanding connections between Māori and their non- Māori Pacific cousins has—since the 1800s been mediated—by Pākehā and the western worldview which New Zealand society is built on. And so today within Aotearoa, when we talk about Pacific, we don’t talk about the Pacific of which New Zealand is a part of but rather the microcosm of Pacific people inside New Zealand with long (and short) histories unique to this place. For these Pacific people, their New Zealand experience has almost always had a strong relationship to labour and to work.
Pacific people have been coming to New Zealand since the 19th century sometimes out of curiosity, sometimes acting as mediators for on-shore encounters and other times as labourers on whaling ships joining whaling stations or seal-skinning gangs. However, it was the mass migration of the 1960s and 1970s that brought over most of the Pacific families which are in Aotearoa today.
With the heavy losses suffered during WWII New Zealand found itself needing to rebuild. After persuading urban Māori to move into cities the domestic labour force was quickly exhausted. New Zealand’s attention then shifted to international labour sources, first in western Europe and subsequently to the Pacific territories. For Pacific people, formal and informal schemes relating to education and work made New Zealand into a “land of milk and honey” full of opportunities. Established at various periods during the twentieth century, New Zealand leaned on the islands under their administration (Sāmoa, Tokelau, the Cook Islands and Niue) before extending out to Tonga and Fiji.