Mai i te pō, ki te whai ao, ki te ao mārama.
To begin, I thank the Borrin Foundation and the wider International Association of Women Judges’ community for allowing me to participate in this year’s IAWJ Bienniel Conference. I am grateful for the exposure and lessons I gained during this experience. The conference sparked an acute motivation within me as I pursue the final stretch of my degree at the University of Waikato. Nō reira, kei ngā wāhine rangatira o te ture, tēnā koutou katoa.
The focus of this report derives from the above expression. The Chief Judge of the New Zealand District Court, Judge Heemi Taumaunu (Ngāti Porou, Ngāi Tahu), implements this phrase mai i te pō, ki te ao mārama in his model of transformational justice in the District Courts – called Te Ao Mārama. I was fortunate to listen to his kōrero at Ōrākei marae on day one of the conference.
In short, the expression can be translated as from the darkness to the world of light. This is an expression inherited from the traditional Māori creation story that tells of the separation of Ranginui and Papatūānuku. More broadly, the expression reflects the journey to enlightenment – a better future. Therefore, how can we set favourable conditions for enlightenment to occur within the legal system?
As Te Ao Mārama applies to the courts, the model aims to design a court system to serve all members of the comnuity. Three principles underpin this model; equitable treatment, substantive fairness and the voice of the community. From my interpretation of the model, Te Ao Mārama (or enlightenment) is not the law. Te Ao Mārama is the end-goal whereby equitable outcomes to justice are achieved. Therefore, the law and the procedures of the court must set favourable conditions for all members of society to have access to justice.
This is merely one method of applying mai i te pō, ki te ao mārama. When considering such transformational journeys to enlightenment, I also immediately reflect on the work of Associate Professor Val Napoleon (Cree from Saulteau First Nation). On day two of the conference, Assoc. Prof. Napoleon delivered her keynote address on indigenous law and how indigenous traditions can be implemented into a joint legal programme in indigenous legal orders and Canadian common law. Like Chief Judge Taumaunu’s Te Ao Mārama model, Assoc. Prof. Napoleon’s JID/JD programme transforms traditional legal programmes and incorporates indigenous knowledge towards a degree which serves all legal orders.
Chief Judge Taumaunu and Assoc. Prof. Napoleon’s insights were two of many highlights during the three days of the conference. As a Māori law student, it is exciting to hear the innovative work being done to incorporate traditional indigenous knowledge into a sector that has traditionally dismissed or – at it’s worst – oppressed indigenous communities. The path to enlightenment must be pursued by all for it to be achieved. As such, I hope to pursue a career adding to the efforts of many before me ki te whai ao, ki te ao mārama.