Young Māori lawyers have paid tribute to esteemed Māori law expert Moana Jackson. 

Dr Jackson, who died late last month, was a lawyer, academic and activist known for his work on Māori and Indigenous rights. He used his knowledge and experience to help Māori and Pākehā understand the impacts of colonisation in Aotearoa. 

Lawyer Te Wehi Wright (Te Arawa, Ngāruahine, Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Kahungunu ki te Wairoa) told Re:’s reo Māori series Ohinga that Dr Jackson is the reason he stayed in law school.

“One of the things he said to us (is) … ‘courage isn’t hard, courage is just the deep breath you take before you make a hard decision’,” he says. 

“Since then, I’ve lived by those words. If there are challenging times ahead of me, I’ll take a deep breath in and out and remember those words of support from Moana.”

Te Wehi received his law degree from Victoria University of Wellington the same day Dr Jackson received his honorary doctorate from the same university.

“When I graduated, I stood on behalf of our Māori students. That was the same day Moana received his doctorate. He was also the keynote speaker and spoke before I did. I was so nervous, because no one could follow on from him and his kōrero. However, I was fortunate, as he calmed my nerves and encouraged me to say what I needed to in order to fulfill my role.”

Solicitor Riana Te Ngahue (Ngāti Porou, Te Whānau a Te Aopare) says Dr Jackson also inspired her journey through law school. 

“I met Moana in my first year at university,” she says. “As I would listen to him speak, one that stood out to me was: ‘be a Māori that happens to be a lawyer, not a lawyer that happens to be Māori’.”

“After hearing that I thought to myself: what's the point in doing law if I’m not following my Māori side too. So that’s the reason I have learnt te reo (Māori).”

This is part of our reo Māori series, Ohinga, created by Mahi Tahi Media, with funding from Te Māngai Pāho and the NZ on Air Public Interest Journalism Fund.

Stay tuned for a new episode every week.

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