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Why understanding Māori culture is significant for the judicial system in NZ.

Among Māori tribes there are many traditions about ancient people and gods who inhabited Aotearoa from the beginning of time. From the gods of the natural world to the mysterious people of the mountains, stories of the ancestors have been handed down through generations.

Beginning with the birth of Hineahuone from the earth, tribal narratives describe a deep and fundamental connection with the land. These connections ensure longevity and a link to the past for those who follow.

And follow we must.

Following and respecting the way of life celebrated in these ancient narratives is key to ensuring its existence in the future. By applying the traditions and lessons handed down by past generations to how we do business, we embrace and encourage the respect and practise of Māori culture.

Tikanga is generally taken to mean the Māori way of doing things, and can apply to business as well as our everyday life. There is a significant link between Tikanga and the justice system and, therefore, it is imperative that law firms and their staff are familiar with Māori traditions, practices and values.

The importance of this link is highlighted in a recent report; Te Taniwha I Te Ao Ture-Ā-Whānau - Whānau Experience of Care and Protection in the Family Court.

The report relates to Care and Protection proceedings under the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989 (which involves decisions about the risk of harm to children and young people, including whether they should be taken into state care). It describes the personal experiences of whānau Māori in Family Court proceedings throughout Aotearoa.

Tamariki Māori make up only 25% of all children in Aotearoa; however, they represent 68% of all children in state care. With so many Tamariki Māori in state care, it is vitally important that the judicial system and people working with these Tamariki Māori and their Whānau are familiar with Tikanga and te reo Māori. Without it, long-lasting and beneficial outcomes for all involved are unlikely.

Transformational change is needed. One option to achieve this suggested in the report involves focusing on changing the behaviour of the Judiciary and professionals involved in the justice system. The end goal is to ensure that a sound knowledge of Tikanga and te reo Māori is a non-negotiable for professionals working in the Family Court.

Another option suggested by the report is to hold Family Court proceedings on Saturdays to allow for more whānau to attend and be part of the process and proceedings.

The third proposal suggested by the report is to require the Government, Iwi and the community to establish a board, comprising at least 50% Māori members, who will facilitate care and protection proceedings in place of the Family Court.

Although we are not sure which option, or options, will be adopted moving forward, what we all can do is work on improving our knowledge of Tikanga and te reo Māori.

As the old Māori proverb goes:

“Ko taku reo taku ohooho, ko taku reo taku mapihi mauria”.
“My language is my awakening; my language is the window to my soul”.

This adage beautifully encompasses the notion of language revitalization, and the very real struggle that is vital to maintaining culture.