Following a milestone Supreme Court nomination in the U.S., Craccum investigates what Māori representation looks like within Aotearoa’s law community.
On February 25th , the White House confirmed President Joe Biden’s nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson for the U.S. Supreme Court Justice. Jackson is the first African American woman to be nominated for the position. Biden said in a formal White House ceremony “I believe it is time that we have a court that reflects the full talents and greatness of our nation.”
According to the New Zealand Law Society in 2018, in Aotearoa 80% of law practitioners were of New Zealand European descent, and only 6.1% were of Māori descent. Māori practitioners were still the second-largest ethnicity group practising. Despite this, Te Reo Māori is only the fifth most spoken language among lawyers. In 2018, only 820 Māori lawyers were practising. The first Māori judge to be sworn into the Supreme Court, Justice Joe Williams, and the first Māori judge to be appointed Chief District Court Judge, Judge Heemi Taumaunu, were appointed just three years ago.
Craccum spoke with University of Auckland law student Lily (Te Āti Awa) about how underrepresentation affects Māori in the law community. Lily said, “I think it does discourage students into a field when they aren’t represented well, and that goes for all underrepresented demographics. I’m a woman too, and I know a lot of women who feel uncomfortable in their STEM fields because they’re underrepresented. The sad reality of it is; if we don’t see people like us succeeding, why would we think that we can too?”
For those looking to enter the field, the University of Auckland runs a Māori Academic Programme (MAP) that “is designed to strengthen, nurture, and promote the desire for academic excellence in the pursuit of your law degree.” MAP provides extra tutorials for Part I, II and III of law, and pre-test wānanga. The University offers targeted admissions scheme for Māori students to help with entry into Part II of their law degree, available to 32 Māori law students; who are able to prove their whakapapa and fill out the relevant application online. The University also has six scholarships available for Māori students.
“Law is hard, but it’s especially hard when you feel you don’t belong. I remember in my first year it was really distracting, you know the whole imposter syndrome feeling. The resources available can help, but it’s also additional time that people may not have. It needs a systemic change, not just a workshop,” said Lily.
The teaching of Māori law and indigenous rights doesn’t seem as prominent within the University as it should be to correctly represent the almost 900,000 Māori in Aotearoa’s population. From the compulsory law papers available, only 4/12 papers explicitly state that they will be looking into Māori law, practices, or the effects current laws have on Māori communities. Only 4/24 General Law elective papers are available on Māori issues.
Dr. Fleur Te Aho (Ngāti Mutunga), teaches and researches indigenous law and Māori’s relationship with the law. Dr. Te Aho said, “Significant changes need to happen to encourage more of our tauira Māori to practise law: we need to decolonise legal education in Aotearoa for a start… so that it is truly bijural, bicultural, and bilingual. Some efforts are already underway, but we are a long way off this goal. And we need to decolonise legal practice, and the law itself, too. For firms and businesses looking to hire law graduates this will include having to confront the structural racism that exists within their organisations and valuing the incredible knowledge and perspectives Māori law graduates have to offer.”