I am incredibly grateful and honoured to have attended the IAWJ Biennial Conference from May 7 – 9. The opportunity to be surrounded by and listen to inspirational women judges was a privilege and I will take the Conference's teachings with me as I progress through my career in the law.
Although the conference only lasted three days, there was a significant diversity of topics and depth of discussion including; the experiences of women judges on final courts, learning about alternative courts, judicial leadership and pressing issues like refugees and trafficking and climate change. While all of these presentations were truly engaging and thought-provoking, two sessions resonated with me in particular; the presentations on indigenous peoples and those by inspirational young New Zealanders.
I have always sought to deepen my understanding of Indigenous legal perspectives while studying, and I began this learning by taking Te Tiriti o Waitangi at Law School. Nevertheless, most courses taught at university examine Indigenous law through a comparative perspective: Professor Val Napoleon had some very insightful points to make on this fact. Although expressions of the law are unique, the pressures they address are universal, and it is time for indigenous legal universes to be truly heard – one method is through "braided" as opposed to comparative teaching. I felt that Prof Napoleon's conception of law and the subsequent presentations on the restorative justice processes, like the Rangatahi Courts, illustrated how the legal system in Aotearoa can be adapted to meet the needs and embody part of the community it serves. As the Honourable Denise Clark stated, kua takoto te manuka aue tu ake rā – the challenge has been laid down, so rise up and accept the challenge.
Alongside the words of women judges, I was particularly stirred by the speeches of the chosen inspirational young leaders at the Conference, especially Fili Fepulea'i-Tapua'l who spoke on climate change. Her speech not only resonated because of the importance of the topic, but how she delivered it – spoken with passion and from the heart. Often, climate change is spoken about in abstract scientific terms, but this usually fails to encapsulate the scale of the threat people are facing, specifically Pacific Island Nations. Combatting climate change should not focus on governments and corporations reducing emissions to an acceptable level, but doing everything in our power to make sure that the future is protected as Fili urged. As Fili put it, "we sweat and cry salt water, so we know that the Ocean is in our blood."
I want to thank the organisers of and speakers at the Conference for delivering such a memorable and impactful event. I also want to extent immense thanks to the Borrin Foundation for awarding me the scholarship to attend such an amazing event.