August 2020 Māori Law Review

Legal education – educating for a bijural Aotearoa New Zealand legal system – the aspirations of Māori academics

Māori Law Review consultant editor Professor Jacinta Ruru introduces new research about strengthening legal education so that Māori law is a foundational component of legal education in Aotearoa.

The Borrin Foundation funded the report discussed here. It is the first stage of a national, multi-year project led by 16 Māori legal researchers associated with Ngā Pae o Te Māramatanga, New Zealand’s Māori Centre of Research Excellence. The project and the report explore systemic change in the legal studies curriculum at Aotearoa New Zealand universities as an important step towards integrating Māori law into Aotearoa New Zealand’s legal system.

Educating for a bijural Aotearoa New Zealand legal system: the aspirations of Māori academics

A state of law that is confidently bijural, bicultural and bilingual

As a collective of Māori law academics from Aotearoa New Zealand’s six law schools, we have a dream.  We wish for a state of law that is confidently bijural, bicultural and bilingual.  Others dream of this too.  Our ancestors who signed te Tiriti o Waitangi all those years ago in 1840 would have expected at least this of our country. Our modern commitment to the United Nation’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples certainly anticipates this.

There are many encouraging signs that we are ready for this opportunity.  Parliament has laid initial important foundations by recognising the importance of te reo Māori and legislating for many decision-makers to have some level of regard to te Tiriti and some appreciation of some Māori legal concepts.  There is increasing demand from the judiciary for advice on Māori law, especially since the Supreme Court accepted in 2012 that “Māori custom according to tikanga is therefore part of the values of the New Zealand common law” (Takamore v Clarke [2012] NZSC 116).

Ten key messages from our issues paper

This month, we published an issues paper that lays out the possibilities of our aspiration.  We focus on what we know best: legal education.  We desire positive change for a near horizon.  We have these ten key messages:

  1. To realise the practice of Māori law as law in Aotearoa New Zealand’s modern legal system, systemic change in the legal profession needs to occur.
  2. We call for a legal profession that is trained to work in a bijural, bicultural and bilingual Aotearoa New Zealand legal system.
  3. Undergraduate legal education has an essential role in fulfilling this call for change.
  4. Aotearoa New Zealand’s six law schools already have varying levels of competency in this area but should now move in a systemic formal manner towards preparing their graduates for a legal practice built on a bijural, bicultural and bilingual legal education.
  5. A bijural legal education presupposes the existence of Māori law founded on tikanga Māori, which is taught as a legitimate and continuing source and influence on the rights, obligations, rules and policy in Aotearoa New Zealand’s legal system. Māori law can and should be taught as part of the multi-year core LLB curriculum in a manner that adheres to Māori transmission methods of knowledge.
  6. A bicultural legal education implements structures, develops processes and provides resources grounded in Te Tiriti o Waitangi | the Treaty of Waitangi, including the employment of Māori, and sharing of resources, leadership and decision-making with iwi, hapū and Māori academic staff. Specific steps include:
    1. quality, structural relationships with the mana whenua with the intent of building greater collaboration for the teaching of Māori law;
    2. the recruitment and retention of high numbers of Māori teaching staff;
    3. a structure for ensuring Māori-led quality content in the compulsory and optional courses offered across the study years;
    4. shared decision-making authority and equitable access to financial resources with Māori staff in the faculty;
    5. financial support for the development of a bicultural curriculum and its quality delivery; and
    6. recognition of the Māori epistemologies for teaching and instruction, such as wananga, pūrākau, the use of te reo Māori and the legal knowledge held by kaumātua.
  7. A bilingual legal education would utilise te reo Māori broadly in general teaching and specifically in relation to Māori law concepts and principles such that all students have a working knowledge of Māori law in te reo Māori at the time of graduation. Where students are fluent in te reo Māori, they should be easily able to learn and be assessed in te reo Māori. Specific steps include:
    1. professional development support for learning te reo Māori for teaching staff;
    2. greater support for a law student’s right to use te reo Māori in all forms of communication;
    3. the development of a bilingual curriculum and its quality delivery;
    4. access to teaching and assessment in law schools in te reo Māori;
    5. ensuring graduates’ fuller understanding of Māori legal and cultural concepts not limited by the use of English interpretations; and
    6. promoting every citizen’s right to use te reo Māori in legal and parliamentary forums and documents.
  8. Strategically decolonising and Indigenising legal education is already underway in Canada and in development in Australia. Such changes are possible. Aotearoa New Zealand is well placed to catch up to these countries and accelerate our existing practices if the commitment is made in a deliberate formal manner with long-term significant resources made available.
  9. Care will be required to progress this aspirational systemic change, especially in regard to ensuring mana whenua are supportive of these moves. The change should be Māori led and Māori designed, with substantial allied support from Deans of law schools and the legal profession, including the judiciary, law practitioners, law academics and law students.
  10. These messages are derived from the first stage of a three-phase project. The next two phases of this research are essential to stress-test and model these key messages.  In the meantime, to commence this journey for aspirational change we recommend we all (re)read and continue to upskill ourselves as much as possible on the extensive knowledge and research already shared by Māori scholars. In our Issues Paper we recommend ten starter readings, along with a select bibliography.

Education to enable the practice of Māori law as law in Aotearoa - stress testing our preliminary key messages

We are excited about the possibilities for our country.  We believe undergraduate legal education has an essential role in enabling the practice of Māori law as law in Aotearoa New Zealand’s modern legal system.  We move now to stress-test these preliminary key messages.  With financial support from the Borrin Foundation, we are now seeking to understand the breadth of interest and the extent of any concerns amongst those practitioners in the Māori and Pākehā legal systems and amongst wider society for the teaching of Māori law in the six law schools.  We value your thoughts, interest and support.

Issues paper - Inspiring National Indigenous Legal Education for Aotearoa New Zealand’s Bachelor of Laws Degree

Read our Issues Paper here: Inspiring National Indigenous Legal Education for Aotearoa New Zealand’s Bachelor of Laws Degree (2020)

Get involved

If you are interested in receiving updates as this research progresses, email us with your details:

Professor Jacinta Ruru (Raukawa, Ngāti Ranginui)

Metiria Turei (Ngāti Kahungunu, Ati Hau nui a Pāpārangi)

Associate Professor Carwyn Jones (Ngāti Kahungunu, Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki)

Associate Professor Khylee Quince (Te Roroa/Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Porou)

Associate Professor Claire Charters (Ngāti Whakaue, Tūwharetoa, Ngāpuhi, Tainui)

Associate Professor Andrew Erueti (Ngā Ruahinerangi, Ngāti Ruanui, Ati Hau nui a Pāpārangi)

Dr Robert Joseph (Tainui, Tūwharetoa, Kahungunu, Rangitane, Ngāi Tahu)

Associate Professor Amokura Kawharu (Ngāti Whatua, Ngāpuhi)

Adrianne Paul (Ngāti Awa, Ngāi Tuhoe)

Mylene Rakena (Ngāti Hine/Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Kahungunu)

Māmari Stephens (Te Rarawa)

Dr Fleur Te Aho (Ngāti Mutunga)

Associate Professor Linda Te Aho (Ngāti Koroki Kahukura, Waikato-Tainui)

Dr Valmaine Toki (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Wai, Ngāti Whatua)

Tracey Whare (Raukawa, Te Whānau-ā-Apanui)

Rebekah Bright (Rongowhakaata, Ngāti Kahungunu ki Heretaunga)

Author: Jacinta Ruru

Professor Jacinta Ruru Ngāti Raukawa ki Waikato, Ngāti Ranginui ki Tauranga, Ngāti Maniapoto and Pakeha Jacinta is a professor in law at Otago University where she has been a faculty member since 1999. In 2016, she also became Co-Director of Nga Pae o te Maramatanga New Zealand's Maori Centre of Research Excellence. Her research interests focuses on exploring Indigenous peoples' legal rights to own, manage and govern land and water. Jacinta's PhD thesis (University of Victoria, Canada, 2012) is titled "Settling Indigenous Place: Reconciling Legal Fictions in Governing Canada and Aotearoa New Zealand's National Parks." Jacinta has led, or co-led, several national and international research projects including on the Common Law Doctrine of Discovery, Indigenous rights to freshwater and multidisciplinary understandings of landscapes. She coleads several research groups including a new University of Otago Poutama Ara Rau Research Theme, and has organised a variety of national and international conferences including the "In Good Faith" Treaty of Waitangi symposium (2007), the international Indigenous Legal Water Forum (2009) and the Australia New Zealand Law and History Society conference (2013). Significant research awards include the University of Otago prestigious Rowheath Trust and Carl Smith Medal for outstanding scholarly achievement across all disciplines (2010) and the Fulbright Nga Pae o te Maramatanga Senior Maori Scholar Award (2012). Jacinta is a consultant editor to the Māori Law Review.