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Island Time: New Zealand's Pacific Futures

Island Time: New Zealand's Pacific Futures

The task of living in modern New Zealand – and especially in modern Auckland – is not just to understand how to live with different peoples, but how to adapt to the future that has already happened.

New Zealand is a nation that exists on Pacific Islands, but does not, and perhaps cannot, see itself as a Pacific Island nation. Yet turning to the Pacific, argues Damon Salesa in this new BWB Text, enables us to grasp a fuller understanding of what life is really like on these shores.

Salesa highlights the racial segregation of Auckland’s suburbs, where the city’s Pacific population is concentrated into areas with high rates of deprivation; poor housing; high rates of respiratory conditions and other illnesses linked to damp, crowded houses; and insufficient community services. Despite these conditions, Pacific people have sparked a national change in New Zealand life and culture. Salesa argues that Pacific people have been innovators who have led a Pacific social, cultural and economic transformation of New Zealand. For those outside of ‘Pacific New Zealand’ much of this has been missed, and despite New Zealand’s strong links with the Pacific and a substantial Pacific population, New Zealand has not valued or made the most of Pacific innovation and potential.

Salesa also examines the ‘Pacific Economy’ within New Zealand, which he describes as ‘different and dynamic’. While he notes the many challenges that it faces, he also points to important clusters of change – transnationalism, the creative economy, Pacific digitality and the future of work. As he writes, ‘if, when you see Māngere, Ōtara, Ōtāhuhu and other key centres of Pacific New Zealand, you see only economic oppression and stagnation, you are looking with an outsider’s eyes, blinkered to remarkably exuberant, cultured marketplaces.’

In many ways, Salesa argues, New Zealand’s Pacific future has already happened. Today, more than one in four babies born in Auckland are Pacific. Setting a course through the ‘islands’ of Pacific life in New Zealand – Ōtara, Tokoroa, Porirua, Ōamaru and beyond – he charts a country becoming ‘even more Pacific by the hour’.

How New Zealand responds to this change will be crucial. As Salesa observes, ‘as New Zealand looks out across the Pacific it also sees into its future. But New Zealand has yet to fully come to terms with its place in the Pacific, and to acknowledge the critical work its Pacific people and communities can do to make it finally at home in the Pacific.’

What would it mean, this far-sighted book asks, for New Zealand to recognise its Pacific talent and finally act like a Pacific nation?

About the Author
Toeolesulusulu Damon Ieremia Salesa is a scholar of Pacific politics, history, technology, culture and society. His work includes the prize-winning book Racial Crossings, a number of academic chapters and articles, and Tangata o le Moana (co-editor). He is currently completing a Marsden Research Project on technological, social and cultural change in Samoa. A graduate of the University of Auckland and Oxford, he was previously based at the University of Michigan. A Samoan born and raised in Glen Innes, Auckland, he is currently University Director of Pacific Strategy and Engagement and Associate Professor of Pacific Studies at the University of Auckland.

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