The Samoan Society of Clutha District held its official launch at Balclutha’s Cross Recreation Centre on Saturday night.

Since mid-2022, a dedicated group of Clutha’s Samoan residents and Clutha District Council people have been working to identify the purpose and constitution of the society, create a logo and incorporate it.

About 80 people of all ages, including representatives from Clutha’s council and emergency services, enjoyed an evening of a welcome ceremony, songs and hospitality.

Council community development adviser Jean proctor said the society would promote the power of unity, and work with other groups to deal with challenges the district’s growing Pasifika community faced, such as getting used to a new language, colder weather and social isolation.

“Together we can foster a sense of belonging, meet and network to solve common problems . . . and (the society) is open for anybody to join or reach out to — with a lot more events and connections to happen,” Mrs Proctor said.

Part of the inauguration was a ceremony where elders and dignitaries were acknowledged and invited to partake of the traditional drink, including Clutha Mayor Bryan Cadogan.

“When I was 10, we were a monoculture . . . I didn’t make my first Samoan friend until I was at the freezer in my 20s,’’ Mr Cadogan said.

“Your reputation as hard workers with strong family, strong church and strong community have clearly earned all our respect and your place here, and Clutha is so much more vibrant for having you.”

Speeches were short and proceedings relaxed as the society’s executive committee was inaugurated and introduced, including treasurer Michael Papalii, who moved first to Auckland in 2014, then to Balclutha with his family almost three years ago.

“Mainly we’re here to help out our people, especially the boys coming over on the [Silver Fern Farms freezing works] scheme.

‘‘Language is the main barrier and people need help getting IRD numbers, knowing their rights, finding homes and fitting in with the new culture,” he said.

Samoan families now settled in towns including Owaka and Kaitangata as well as Balclutha turned out, many in ceremonial dress, to celebrate the society’s official founding before treating their many guests to shared meaai (kai).

“And when people are settled in, there’s been the support for so many people missing their families back in Samoa . . .

‘‘Thank God for the technology to stay in touch with my mother and sisters,” Mr Papalii said.

Calling in . . . Many at the society’s launch had travelled from Owaka and Kaitangata.
Community leaders . . . The Samoan Society of Clutha district’s executive committee includes (back from left) the Rev Iosefa Setu, Salu Tuia-Taavili, Isala Pouniu, Mayelissha Pouniu, and (front from left) Zach Filo, and Atonio Taavili.