Have you ever heard someone’s story and thought, That so needs to be a book.
I’ve openly shared these kind of thoughts with many people along this book journey and some have laughed off my comments, others remind themselves of what the world has constantly told our people – ‘Nah I can’t write.’ And then there’s the, ‘You’re the author, I’ll leave that up to you.’
It’s definitely one thing to have a story and to realise the value of it, but to tell your story is a different thing all together. Thankfully I have had a lot of practise in my other life as an educator, creating opportunities and supporting my students to develop their own confidence to find and share who they are across the different worlds they live in. The power of talanoa, our true islander ride-or-die alofa, respect and trust was always at the heart of my teaching practice. Now as the publisher of Mila’s Books, this formula has led to us including the stories of over 70 Pasifika students, educators, parents and families in a variety of book projects so far #MoreComing.
Then there are the stories that need extra care, attention and deserve their own space in the world. These kinds of stories stir the soul, awaken the spirit and make your heart skip a beat in an unforgettable way. To be able to share these stories involves more than courage.
For us as Pasifika, a physical and spiritual village made up of alofa, ancestors and healing is needed for those brave enough. Usually one needs to have done the work, unpacked the layers of lived experiences to honour and return home to themselves. I’ve also known such individuals to use the light from their lessons to guide them through the darkness to get to the other side, only to return for others lost in their darkness to help guide them towards the light. Something my dear friend and sister Emeli has done for me many times.
I knew one day we would look at publishing Pasifika authors as part of our tautua to empower and show our people that we are storytellers and what is possible for our stories. So when Emeli told me about her dawn raid experience, I automatically thought, This needs to be a book. Even though Emeli is a published author, she did what everyone else does at the idea of telling your own personal story and laughed it off (yes even us published and experienced authors doubt ourselves #AllTheTime).
Then on a different occasion we celebrated Emeli putting her dawn raid experience on paper. But this time I got the chance to read it.
Her story was heartbreakingly beautiful. It made me think about those who came before us – the sacrifice, alofa, lessons of hope and much needed healing from the Dawn Raid era due to the effects still being felt by us and our tamaiti today (read our Tama Sāmoa and Teine Sāmoa books for proof). I connected instantly with the raw essence of Emeli’s story and as the tears fell, I saw our story as Pasifika in New Zealand in my mind.
With the reading of the last sentence, I had made the decision that Mila’s Books would publish Emeli’s story. But I didn’t tell her. With traumatic experiences that shape us and become part of stories, I knew my role was to wait until she was ready to see what I saw. But as always, God and the universe revealed their own plans for us through a series of events at the beginning of this year.
There was Emeli’s dawn raid story being brought up a number of times as we found out that her cancer had returned. Around the same time the Teu le va – Dawn Raid History Community fund was opened. Many conversations with school leaders and teachers wanting more support and resources to support the new New Zealand Histories Curriculum were had too.
Then Emeli’s health took a turn and instead of worrying about herself, in true Emeli tautua style, she couldn’t help herself by asking how she could support our Mila’s Books projects for the year. We laughed at how addicted we are to ensuring our tamaiti got access to our Pasifika cultures, identities and histories through the stories we create – in sickness and in health. Amene. Then the laughter faded and I paused to look at my friend who was tearing up as she turned to me and said, ‘Sis, I’m ready to tell my story.’
Teardrops landed on each other’s shoulders as we hugged it out and the idea of A New Dawn was born.
From the beginning it was important for us to create a book that was all the way real by reflecting the good, bad and the ugly of our past, while also including the full circle moments along the dawn raid journey. This is why A New Dawn not only includes Emeli’s story, but extra information sections for readers on the Dawn Raids, the Polynesian Panthers Party and the moment that acknowledged it all and signaled the start of the healing process – the Prime Minister’s dawn raid apology made on behalf of the New Zealand government last year.
So many hands and spirits have made A New Dawn possible. Including the Polynesian Panthers Party Legacy Trust who have given their blessing of our book project, images and information from Pasifika community leaders and creatives, as well as the Ministry of Pacific Peoples and their Teu Le Va – Dawn Raids History Community Fund. Then there’s our amazing Mila’s Books team – Liz Tui Morris and Darcy Solia, who continue to amaze me with each project we produce and this time around have done our sister proud. And to the other heartbeat of our Mila’s Books aiga, Emeli – we thank you and your family for trusting us to share your story and lessons with the world.
Quite simply, A New Dawn reminds us to know better and do better for our tamaiti and Pasifika communities. It acts as a mirror for New Zealand and is a space for all New Zealanders to understand the reality and intergenerational impact of the Dawn Raids era. This book also symbolises a new beginning to help us to forgive but never forget.
And at the heart of this book is Emeli’s story. A story that gives us hope by challenging and empowering us to share our own in order to heal and change the ending of our story as Pasifika here in New Zealand.
A New Dawn will be released on the 1st August 2022, in celebration of the one year anniversary of the Dawn Raid Apology made by the New Zealand government.