Maori/Pasifika law students: Taking steps in the right direction – a Pacific perspective
By Epenesa So’oula
I have never been more proud of being Samoan, and a student of AUT, than when Her Honour Judge Ida Malosi, a District Court Judge of New Zealand, gave a compelling and heart felt speech at the Te Hunga Roia Maori o Aotearoa Annual conference earlier this month.
Along with her sisters in the judiciary from Samoa, Justice Mata Tuatagaloa and District Court Judge Leilani Tuala-Warren, they delivered a presentation that encouraged closer relations between Pacific and Maori; and for us youngsters to look deeper into our common ancestry for wisdom and spiritual support to unite and inspire each of us to greater heights.
It was my great fortune that as a law student of Auckland University of Technology (AUT) and a member of AUT’s Maori and Pacific Law Association (MaPLA), an opportunity arose to attend and witness this historic hui. An ocassion that showcased to me the crucial and important role that MaPLA could play in helping budding Pacific island law students transition more easily into the academic environment. As well as getting connected to the networks and mentors that senior Maori and Pacific students and alumni already have in place.
Now in my final year, I certainly vouch about the immense stresses involved in undertaking a law degree, especially in the first year.
But having discovered and then welcomed into the inspirational and culturally relaxing environment of MaPLA, I am excited about the positive role it can play to help up and coming young Pacific and Maori students succeed. I am proof that joining MaPLA and participating in its initiatives, activities and networks makes a huge difference.
Briefly, MaPLA is an organisation run by the students at AUT and is specifically designed to provide Maori and Pacific law students with education based support aimed to maximise their potential to achieve their best academic outcomes.
To make this happen, MaPLA hosts various academic events to help students with their exams and pointers about career pathways and options as future legal practitioners.
One of the activities organised by MaPLA this year was to send a group to attend the annual Te Hunga Rōia Māori o Aotearoa/New Zealand Māori Law Society (“THRMOA”) hui earlier this month.
It was the first time that AUT came forward as a sponsor, which allowed eleven student representatives, of which I was one, to attend the hui. Six other universities attended, our brothers and sisters from Auckland University, Waikato, Victoria, Otago and Canterbury which, all up, meant that 2015 was the highest number of registrations the conference has ever had since it was established 30 years ago.
This year’s hui was special for three reasons.
The first is encapsulated by the theme E Tū ki te Kei o te Waka which pays homage to Dr Apirana Mahuika. The theme translated is ‘Stand at the Stern of the Canoe’ is based on a whakataukī he gifted to the New Zealand Police (E tū ki te kei o te waka, kia pakia koe e ngā ngaru o te wā – Stand at the stern of the canoe and feel the spray of the future biting at your face).
As the hui organisers wrote, “Standing at the stern allows us to foresee potential obstacles amidst the waters ahead and steer our waka accordingly. In this sense, Māori lawyers working intelligently and collaboratively can build on THRMOA’s mantra – Mā te Ture, Mō te Iwi – and lead the charge in bringing Māori legal issues to the fore, not just nationally, but globally.”
The second is the commemoration of the 175th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. It meant there was considerable focus on how the evolution of the Māori legal profession has been, and will continue to be, influenced by Te Tiriti.
The opening keynote address looked at the “meaning and purpose – the past, the present and the future” of Te Tiriti and the presentations by Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias, Moana Jackson and Erima Henare gave us insights into some of the greatest legal minds in Aotearoa New Zealand. It was a privilege to be amongst the audience.
And the third, as I mentioned at the beginning of this column, was the Closing Keynote Address on Custom, Law, Gender and Jandals – A Pasifika Perspective. Presented by Judge Ida Malosi, Justice Mata Tuatagaloa and Judge Leilani Tuala-Warren – it was inspirational and emotional as a Samoan woman in the audience.
These three women are pioneers of the Pacific justice system, trailblazing and sculpting the legal landscape. There was a lot of pride at being in the same room with these Samoan women who have not just rewritten the history books, but are rewriting how the Westminster legislative framework can be pushed and customized to reflect, authentically, Pacific island traditions and cultural uniqueness into the laws of today’s modern world.
That was why for me, the hui that began with a Karakia (prayer) in the Auckland University Marae, ended with words of wisdom and a karakia at the Otiria Marae was so invaluable as a budding legal professional. It provided me with clarity and direction.
For our MaPLA group from AUT, we left in high spirits, having made new friends and with greater confidence that we are taking steps in the right direction – men and woman who will be practitioners for justice in the future.
Epenesa is the eldest of seven children and mother to a nine year old son. Her father is Fuimaono Epati Sooula from Salani and Fasitoo Uta. Her mother is Epenesa Sooula from Safune and Fogapoa, Fatausi.
“My passion has always been and will continue to be, the development and support for Pacific people and those who, like myself are economically challenged. The wealth I desire cannot be found here on earth, and so all that I possess in terms of education, skills and knowledge, will be disposed of for the benefit and service of our people.
“These aspirations has been instilled in me by my parents who have been my main support throughout my life.”
She believes that leadership comes through hard work and sacrifices.
“I believe that moving forward requires cultural transparency to create a romantic understanding of our needs as a community, and a genuine appreciation of one another. In moving forward also, I am mindful of the role that education has in achieving a better future and the need for our children to be well educated.”
She is CEO for Ephatah Support Services, a community services group; and Manager for L.A Designs.
Qualifications: BBus (AUT); MBA (AUT); final year LLB (AUT)