Pasifika Categorisation in Australia

As we discussed earlier in relation to how Pacific Island peoples are labelled and termed, the categorisation of Pasifika peoples in Australia is also a contested space. To grasp the evolution of terms, it is helpful to look at the New Zealand context.

In New Zealand, the Maori are the tangata whenua or indigenous people of the land. Therefore, when being described together, Maori are rightfully set apart from Pacific Island peoples and the main label used is ‘Maori and Pacific Islanders’. This distinction has been continued in some spaces here in Australia, which is being debated by the community because Maori are no longer the tangata whenua or indigenous peoples of Australia.

Another point to note is that the term Pasifika was coined by the Ministry of Education in New Zealand to provide a Pacific-centric description of migrants from the Pacific Islands – mostly from the Polynesian nations. Therefore, some people in community here in Australia argue that Pasifika’s heavy Polynesian influence and roots from New Zealand make it an inappropriate term to describe people from the Pacific Ocean.

Below is a table that touches on some of the pros and cons of the most popular terms used to describe Pasifika peoples in Australia. 

Pasifika– Pacific-centric
– Used widely
– Adopted by many universities and community organisations
– Adopted in mainstream institutions such as government, sporting clubs, universities.
– New Zealand origin means heavily Polynesian-influenced
– Unclear whether includes Maori or not
Pacifica– Pacific-centric– Not used widely
– Fijian alphabet doesn’t have the letter ‘c’
Oceanic– Ocean-centred
– Foreground commonality of the ocean
– Not widely used
Maori and Pacific– Commonly used from its New Zealand origins– Not as relatable to Melanesian and Micronesian populations
– Argued that Maori should be brought into a common term given they are not indigenous to Australia
Pacific Islanders– Commonly used from its New Zealand origins
– Used widely in Australia
– No longer used in New Zealand because it connotes the islands as homogenous
– There is no Pacific Island per se, so no Pacific Islanders
Pasifika Peoples– Now the preferred term in New Zealand because it infers a group of diverse peoples– Unclear whether Maori are included here for government and the community

After careful consideration, and in light of the evolution of terms, the preference in this course is obviously to use ‘Pasifika peoples’ to describe Melanesian, Micronesian and Polynesian peoples in Australia. This seems to be the prevailing discourse within Australia and amongst many government departments, universities (such as Queensland University of Technology, Australian National University, Griffith University, Australian Catholic University and Western Sydney University) and community groups.

However, any of the above terms (as well as others) may be used and seen as more appropriate by other members of community.

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