Remembering and celebrating the contributions of Moana Jackson (10 October 1945 – 31 March 2022)

Written by Michelle Kidd QSM and Edmond Currucan



This perspective may be unlike prior published perspectives to which you are accustomed. Different. Considered. Genuine and a little poetic. This is perhaps how Moana would have preferred it.

Unlike Moana, I may not skillfully find one poignant joke or humorous story to share with you. Those of us who identify as tangata whenua, people of the land, and who have had the privilege of hearing him speak publicly can attest to many humorous and insightful stories Moana shared over the years.

Each story helped to break the ice in a sombre setting and is a reminder of how tangata whenua can relate through our cultural lens. My reasoning in writing this perspective is that perhaps Moana always reminded listeners that we can all say a lot without using many words. His contributions speak for themselves.

Flax Roots Change

Moana came to my attention as a result of the changes he made from flax roots. I came to know him through his published works during my undergraduate academic studies.

Today, in delivering lectures, I remind students and myself that we come from flax roots in Aotearoa, not grassroots. The importance of harakeke, flax, means flax roots have more significance to our world of Aotearoa than the notion of grassroots.

Moana was mindful of those who lived on this whenua before us, our tūpuna, our ancestors and how lasting change that survives must come from the whenua through the community. It then rises from the community to a national level. The notion of flax roots may seem so small a part of his thinking and contributions to the fields of constitutional law, equity, philosophy, jurisprudence and tangata whenua rights that it is often mistakenly, and unjustifiably overlooked.

This is especially so in an online, international law context.

Moana knew how justice was viewed from and at the community’s flax roots. He sat with community people and listened. He observed injustices and how the community viewed justice and injustice. Then he took this away and contributed to the fields I mentioned earlier. If more researchers and legal representatives took this approach, the world would be more connected, and through that involvement law would be more meaningful.

Moana always acknowledged the people with whom he sat. He returned to them for further reflection, at the flax roots. Within reflection, he wanted to ensure and confirm he was on the right path.

Moana was certainly involved in and saw the value of international forums. However, he was more interested in what people at the flax roots had to say about legal issues, society, and the impact of legal processes upon them. Moana conversed with and for us, as people. One contribution from Moana can be highlighted to demonstrate this knowledge.

He Whaipaanga Hou – A New Perspective

This is the title of his seminal report, comprising parts 1 and 2. The report covers the New Zealand justice system and its continued failings for Māori as tangata whenua. As one of the first projects of its kind, this project gained insights into Māori Youth offending and imprisonment, with a view to having the disproportionate rates addressed.

This research was a great success for it exposed the disproportionate imprisonment of Māori. The process of consultation involved in his research continues at present, in my opinion, to be one of the most thorough and broad sets of interviews ever undertaken with Māori people.

The research and its interview excerpts are of great value to Māori and other Indigenous peoples who keep suffering inequity due to personal, interpersonal, systemic and structural racism.

Finally, this research continues to have relevance. Little has improved and in fact life has worsened for Māori. As one recent example, the New Zealand Police force has been breaching privacy rules, when taking photos of Māori youth. A new perspective remains. There is a need to urgently see things for what they are and what they can be, to change justice processes and outcomes.

Flax roots research continues to be necessary for the world.

However, this two-part report is not in my view his single greatest contribution.

Moana Jackson’s Continuing Legacy

My contention is his single greatest contribution is yet to be seen. The legal minds and more importantly, the whānau, the families whom he helped shape will bear the fruits of his work over the next 25 years and beyond.

Moana endorsed a vision of constitutional transformation. This can serve as a constitutional blueprint for Aotearoa New Zealand. A forward-looking, practical path for tangata whenua and state relations in today’s changing world. In doing this, he leaves the international community with proof positive that transformation is available to any nation willing to think, plan, act, commit adequate resources and have the political will to trust those at flax roots.

It is because of his efforts that as tangata whenua researchers we are given a firm basis, direction and encouragement in our own work. Recently, his discussion on how law is storied, led to the publication of my master’s thesis Ko Tikanga Te Mātāmua. His work helps to form the theoretical basis and practical application of several academic works, as it did with mine. Such works are a credit to him.

Parting Words

Moana Jackson continues to be a humble hero to many of us including me and for many reasons. Without him, it is arguable the notion of Indigenous rights, which I have referred to instead as tangata whenua rights, would be in a worse position. Moana represents something greater than the dreams which obviously outlive him. Dreams of an unwritten future. Dreams for change. Dreams of hope for all peoples.

Moana is a giant for all time. Humble. Heartfelt.

I end by sharing a few words of farewell to Moana:

Moe mai rā I te moeroa o te moana. Haere ki te rimu tapu.

Sleep in the long sleep of the ocean. Go to the sacred hiding place.

Moana Jackson photo by Simon Dixon

Photo by Simon Dixon

Michelle Kidd QSM
Michelle Kidd QSM

Michelle Kidd QSM has tirelessly served at the Auckland District Court for twenty five years providing invaluable assistance to all those affected by the criminal justice system, in particular the Homeless, vulnerable, addicted and those affected by family violence. Michelle’s contribution was formally recognised in 2011 when she was awarded the Queen's Service Medal. It is difficult to put into words the work that she does, for it is a calling, not a job.  Her role is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Michelle’s vision is to see tikanga Maori enshrined within the justice system of Aotearoa.

Edmond Carrucan
Edmond Currucan

Edmond Carrucanis Ngāti Hako, Ngāti Pāoa and Ngāti Porou. As a Māori academic, his research is helping to further articulate a Māori legal method as a step towards realising an Indigenous legal education in Aotearoa New Zealand and reaffirming that Tikanga Māori is a primary source of law. At the time of writing this perspective, he is employed as a law lecturer at the University of Waikato.

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