“Long before risking our freedom as Polynesian Panthers, we were simply Polynesian. It was time to be heard. It was time to mobilise. It was time to fight back.”

Stuff has today released Once A Panther, a podcast series about the group of young New Zealand-born Pacific Islanders who stood up to institutionalised racism and helped change the course of Aotearoa’s history.

The six-part series marks the 50th anniversary of the Polynesian Panthers, a movement that sprung up in response to the systemic racism experienced by Pasifika in the 70s.

Writers and producers Brad Flahive and Alex Liu spent the past six months creating rich, emotionally-charged audio documentaries that give deep insight into how this group of young activists started a homegrown revolution.

“The intimacy of a podcast allows the Panthers’ stories to contextualise issues that affected Aotearoa’s Pasifika community since the 1950s – and continue to have ramifications today,” says Flahive.

“No journalist’s voice is included in the series. It is their story, in their own words.”

The podcast features Polynesian Panthers members Will ‘Ilolahia, Melani Anae, Alec Toleafoa, Wayne Toleafoa and Tigilau Ness, alongside other influential people of that time like John Minto, Trevor Richards, Roger Fowler and Joris De Bres.

“Examining themes of identity, activism, racial division and sacrifice provide a powerful commentary on events such as the Dawn Raids, Bastion Point, the 1981 Springbok Tour and indeed, race relations in New Zealand today,” says Liu.

“Our history is relatively recent, but many New Zealanders still don’t know the stories about the people that now contribute to the rich tapestry of Aotearoa.”

Once a Panther was produced with funding from NZ On Air and is available at stuff.co.nz/onceapanther.

Once a Panther episode outline

Identity | Polynesian immigration and life in Ponsonby and Grey Lynn during the 60s and 70s.

Fight Back | Organised opposition to a government intent on marginalising Polynesians with policies like the Police Task Force and Dawn Raids.

Family | Elders disagree that vocal opposition is the right path until Bastion Point reveals indigenous land grievances.

Division | The need to escalate opposition ignites a battle between a bitterly divided country during the 1981 Springbok Tour.

Sacrifice | Trial, jail, exile. Post-traumatic stresses take their toll despite international recognition from leaders such as Nelson Mandela.

Always A Panther | How race relations in NZ today mirror 50 years ago, and how young people can be heard.