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History of the Pacific Islands Centre

Established in 2001

The University of Otago Pacific Islands Centre was established in 2001 under the guidance of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic), Dr Phil Meade, and the Director of Student Services David Richardson. A Project Officer, Pesamino Tili was appointed to help facilitate its set up.

The Centre’s first office was a room and an office upstairs in the building 262 Leith St, sharing with Disability Information & Support.

In 2002, the Centre’s inaugural Manager Tofilau Nina Kirifi-Alai was appointed, initially on a fixed-term contract which later rolled into a permanent tenureship.

Officially opened in 2003

The Pacific Islands Centre was officially opened on the 26th of June 2003 by Dr Phil Meade as Acting Vice-Chancellor. The keynote speaker was the Hon. Tuiatua Tupua Tamasese, tamaaiga and paramount chief of Samoa.

The opening was well attended by students, members of the Pacific Islands community in Dunedin and around New Zealand, representatives from the Ministries of Education and Pacific Islands Affairs, the Tertiary Education Commission and representatives across the University. Otago Pacific Alumni were also in attendance, most notably Judge A'eau Semi Epati, the first Pacific Islander to be appointed a district court judge in New Zealand.

New location at 1 Leithbank

In August 2006, the Centre moved to its current location at 1 Leithbank and a full-time administrator was appointed in early 2007. This new Centre was officially opened by Vice-Chancellor Professor David Skegg on the 23rd of February 2007.

The new Centre now has two offices, two seminar rooms (named after Pacific leaders who trailblazed the way for Pacific Islanders here at Otago). There is the Sir Tom Davis Common Room, and the Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara Seminar Room, a kitchen and the Epati Courtyard named after Judge Epati.

Growing Pacific students

A new position in the form of a Pacific Islands Community Liaison Officer was established in 2008 as part of a strategy to improve communications and liaison with the pacific communities around New Zealand and cope with the growing number of Pacific Island enrolments.  The Centre now has 3 permanent full time staff.  To better facilitate the increasing number of events held by the Centre and the increasing student numbers, the Centre was allocated an additional adjacent building at 3 Leithbank.  The Leithbank 3 site was opened in 2011 and has an office, a computer lab and three tutorial rooms.

The Centre since its inception has become the hub of all things Pacific on campus and was/is the driving force behind Pacific development at Otago. We continue to forge and write our history.