New Zealand Law Society - Profile: Nerys Udy, Judge's Clerk at the Supreme Court of New Zealand

Profile: Nerys Udy, Judge's Clerk at the Supreme Court of New Zealand

Profile: Nerys Udy, Judge's Clerk at the Supreme Court of New Zealand

Judge’s Clerk and recent graduate Nerys Udy of Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Māmoe, Waitaha has written about her passion for Te Reo Māori and the relationship between the law and Te Reo Māori in our upcoming LawTalk. Below is a shortened version of her full article which you can read on our website or in the magazine from Friday 17 September.

With Mahuru Māori and Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori it is timely for the legal profession to stop and reflect on the role te reo Māori plays in all of our lives. For me, any kōrero about te reo Māori always starts with my Taua (grandmother). My Taua was a beautiful Ngāi Tahu woman, who loved our reo. She reclaimed her language as an adult and later became a te reo Māori teacher, teaching te reo to women in prisons.  

I often think about her path as I continue my own te reo journey and as I begin my journey in the law. My desire to learn te reo is innate in my whakapapa, but it was immediately inspired by the ideal set by my Taua.

Her ability to learn te reo and subsequently teach it is reflective of the fact that she was a highly intelligent woman, despite never being afforded the opportunity to attend university. It gives me cause to reflect on the privilege of my tertiary education, which opened both te reo and the law to me.  

My Taua’s role as a kaiako reo in prisons reminds me that there is a relationship between the law and te reo Māori, intersecting in both negative and positive ways. As others have noted, it is a tragedy that for some, their first introduction to te reo Māori is in a carceral institution and reflects the fact that Māori are still overrepresented in our criminal justice system.

At the same time, the healing power of te reo Māori to restitch the severed connections to whakapapa and tikanga is potent. More and more, te reo is becoming relevant in all areas of the law and legal practice.

Te Reo as a practical tool for my legal work

For myself, I have found te reo has been a constant companion in my first steps into the legal profession. My language has grounded me in my identity as I enter new spaces, but it has also been a hugely beneficial practical tool and has added unique value to my work. 

Nerys stands by the clocktower in Dunedin wearing a beautiful green and white cloak
Nerys Udy, Judge's Clerk at the Supreme Court

On several occasions I have found myself with research tasks where my te reo has been a critical tool, allowing me to access Māori language sources, most of which are not available in English. This includes the vast number of historical newspapers written in te reo Māori, native land court minute books and contemporary writings in te reo Māori. 

As Justice Joe Williams pointed out in a recent lecture on tikanga in legal education, many of these te reo Māori sources are significant records of tikanga as it was being practised, as law. They contain debates about land, whānau, taonga, and practices such as rāhui, all according to tikanga. To ignore such sources is to ignore a vast resource of historical and legal information. For some contexts, English can only present an incomplete picture. So, in giving me access, my te reo Māori has allowed me to produce legal research of a more nuanced, deeper quality than I could have otherwise.  

An exciting future for Te Reo and the Law

Reflecting on my recent experiences, I am grateful for the privilege to have access both to te reo and to legal education.

I am by no means an expert in either space and I still have a lot to learn. But as my journey continues it is exciting to see that points of confluence are emerging.

There are many fantastic initiatives occurring and Te Hunga Rōia Māori is leading the way, with amazing role models setting the example and sharing their time and knowledge of te reo with others.

I encourage all te reo Māori speakers, especially those new to the workforce, to embrace the unique value you bring to legal spaces, through your reo and the worldview that goes with it.

I encourage legal workplaces to recognise that value and support those in the profession taking steps on their own reo journey, wherever they may be on that pathway. Kia kaha te reo Māori! 

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