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Interview with Alana Thomas and Corin Merrick

08 November 2019

NZLS Auckland Branch — Interview with Alana Thomas & Corin Merrick, authors of ‘Kia Kākano Rua te Ture: A Te Reo Māori Handbook for the Law’

Alana Thomas
Alana Thomas

The desire to understand, learn and strengthen te reo Māori within Aotearoa has been at the forefront of many professional and personal environments – and the law is no exception. There is increasing recognition that the legal profession, as an industry where Māori are negatively overrepresented, needs to have a greater understanding of te reo Māori and tikanga Māori.

Kia Kākano Rua te Ture: A te reo Māori Handbook for the Law will equip legal practitioners, law students, government departments and the judiciary with the tools they need to take a step towards a more equitable justice system.

With a practical focus on Māori language and protocol to be used in different professional and Court settings, this book is a necessary foundation to help users not only expand their skill sets but will also work to improve the legal access Māori have by ensuring they have an understanding of te reo Māori and Māori issues.

‘Kia Kākano Rua te Ture: A Te Reo Māori Handbook for the Law’ was released on 25 October, 2019, publisher LexisNexis New Zealand Ltd.

Corin Merrick
Corin Merrick

Alana Thomas grew up in Whangārei where she attended Whangārei Girls High School. After graduating from the University of Auckland in 2008, she has practised in several areas of law including Criminal Law, Family Law and Commercial Law, but the majority of her practice is now dedicated to progressing matters in the Māori Land Court, Māori Appellate Court and the Waitangi Tribunal.

She lives in Auckland and is a proud mother of her two children, Maioha and Te Āiorangi. She is a lawyer at her own firm, Kaupare.

Corin Merrick is a graduate of Kōhanga Reo and Kura Kaupapa Māori. She is a Barrister at Mānuka Chambers in Manukau, Auckland.  She was admitted to the bar in 2008 and started her career working in one of New Zealand’s top law firms. She is a Court Appointed Youth Advocate acting for young people in the Youth Court, Rangatahi Court and Pasifika Court.  She appears for parties on a wide range of matters in the Family Court. Corin is a past member of the Executive Committee of Te Hunga Rōia Māori, and a member of the Family Law Section.

Congratulations on your recent publication of ‘Kia Kākano Rua te Ture: A Te Reo Māori Handbook for the Law’. What was your main motivation for writing it and what does it mean to you personally?

Alana: We are both passionate advocates for the use of te reo Māori within the law and for over 10 years have been doing our best to ensure that te reo Māori is promoted in all aspects of our current legal system.  This book is just one step to ensure that every lawyer in Aotearoa has the ability to implement te reo Māori into their mahi (work).

Corin: I love te reo Māori and am grateful for all of the opportunities, and doors it has opened for me.  Like many of us who have gained so much from te reo Māori, I have asked myself many times, what have I done for the language? So, for me, the book is part of a bigger goal around the revitalisation of te reo Māori.

What do you hope this handbook will achieve?

Alana: Firstly, we hope that every lawyer and member of the Judiciary has the chance to read this book and see that it relates to all aspects and jurisdictions of law and that there is something in there for everyone. Secondly, that it will encourage them to use te reo Māori in the Courts, in the documents they draft, in their dealings with their clients and within their offices on an everyday basis. Ko te rere o te reo Māori ki ngā wahanga katoa o te ao ture, ko te whāinga matua.

Corin: I hope it will help normalise te reo Māori in the law.

I hope it will help lawyers incorporate te reo Māori and tikanga Māori into their practices.

I hope it will help improve the relationships between lawyers and their Māori clients.

Who is this handbook aimed at?

Alana: We wrote this book predominantly with practising lawyers and the Judiciary in mind, but it will also be relevant and helpful for all those working in, teaching in and studying the law that wish to gain an insight into tea o Māori and te reo Māori within the law.

Corin: Lawyers, students, judges, law academics.

What is the meaning behind its Māori title?

Alana: The words ‘kākano rua’, are used to describe biculturalism in te reo Māori. The name of this book, ‘Kia Kākano Rua Te Ture’, stems from our aspiration to see biculturalism in our legal system. We see te reo

Māori as the waka (vehicle) which can take us to that destination.

What are in your opinion are some of the ways to encourage the use of te reo Māori within the legal system?

Alana: We are already seen a huge increase of those wanting to use more te reo Māori and understand the intricacies of te reo Māori. So I believe that te reo Māori itself is calling out to those that believe in its value and its ability to enact change with our legal system. Our job is to support that growth and to create a space where everyone feels comfortable to take that journey.

Corin: Over the past few years I have seen a number of my colleagues begin their te reo Māori journey and have been genuinely moved by the time and effort that they have put into learning. Learning te reo Māori can be exciting and will provide you with new tools in interpreting the law. Normalising te reo Māori benefits us as lawyers, and will have a positive impact on our clients.

I encourage everyone to use te reo Māori as much as they are able to, however I acknowledge that we are all at different levels on our Māori language journey and that learning a new language as an adult is very difficult.  For some of us it might be learning correct pronunciation of our clients’ names or place names.

Te reo Māori is a beautiful language, it’s fun, and it’s unique to Aotearoa. Imagine the All Blacks with no haka, or the national anthem only sung in English.

Wherever you are on your journey, we encourage you to give it a go. We know it can be scary, but fear of getting it wrong shouldn’t stop you from trying. Tū whitia te hopo – Feel the fear and do it anyway.

How do we inspire people to immerse themselves in te reo Māori, particularly if it’s not spoken at home?

Alana: We love te reo Māori and have built our profession and our lives generally with te reo Māori as the foundation, and can truly say that so many doors have been opened to us because of that. So, leading by example and showing te ao ture the world that exists beyond just the language and the benefits that come from having an understanding and knowledge of te reo Māori. Once people see that, there are so many avenues one can take to begin their reo journey from classes, online courses, resources, reo Māori coffee groups, tv programmes, radio stations etc all with the goal to promote te reo Māori in our every-day lives.

Corin: I have just watched my niece perform at the Primary Schools Kapa Haka Competition – Te Mana Kuratahi.  She was one of 40 children on stage performing waiata, haka, and poi.  It was incredibly inspiring, and I bawled my eyes out. There are Māori events like this on throughout the year, where te reo Māori and tikanga Māori are celebrated. Go to these events, learn about your local Māori history, enrol in a reo Māori class at one of your local wānanga, build friendships with people who speak Māori, take a year off work and enrol in a total immersion reo Māori programme, watch Māori TV, come to the Hunga Rōia Kura Reo (3 day te reo Māori intensive) held every year, make a pact with a friend that you will only speak Māori to one another, enrol your children into Kōhanga Reo, enrol your children into Kura Kaupapa Māori, download the many amazing reo Māori apps, listen to reo Māori podcasts.

Do you think that there is enough Māori representation within the legal profession and what are some of the ways to encourage young Māori people to study law?

Alana: Kāhore. We are overly represented in a negative way in the law and we need more Māori lawyers and Māori judges to ensure effective and meaningful representation for those e noho tāmi tonu nei i te ao o te ture. When I was studying law I didn’t see much promotion of te reo Māori and from that, didn’t believe that my understanding of te reo Māori would have any purpose as a practising lawyer. Tērā pōhēhē tērā. Te reo Māori has been my strength and has been the main attribute I have that has elevated me to positions I have only dreamt about. E tika ana kia mihia taku reo Māori. So I would say to young Maori thinking about studying law, is to embrace te reo Māori, tikanga and your Māori worldview, nā konā ka eke panuku, ka eke tangaroa koe i roto i te ao o te ture.

Corin: No there isn’t enough Māori representation.

There are many young Māori who are studying law and who do well in their studies but chose not to be lawyers. It is important to acknowledge that our legal system has serious limitations in its ability to appropriately accommodate for Māori. This is one of the reasons why Māori chose not to carry on with law.

When I was a student, I don’t remember thinking that my reo would have any value in the legal world – I knew that it was a point of difference for me, but I wasn’t told that it would actually assist me to interpret law, or come up with unique legal arguments.

In terms of encouraging young Māori to study law, I would tell them that I draw inspiration from te Ao Māori all the time. I would hope that this assured them that there is a place for them in the law. My husband and I developed a framework for the practice of law based on whakaaro Māori. Our idea was to use a waka to represent a law practice. The various parts of the waka are used as a metaphor to describe the attributes of person, or work being done.

My waka informs the way that I approach my practice including client engagement, the way I look at potential legal arguments, and issues relating to the cases I act on. This framework ensures that in circumstances where monoculturalism can sometimes dominate, I stay grounded in te Ao Māori and am free to consider and reason from an alternative view.

Last updated on the 8th November 2019