Rawinia Higgins pays tribute to Moana Jackson, “one of the most influential minds shaping indigenous rights, both in this country and internationally”
Moana Jackson, of Ngāti Kahungunu, Rongomaiwahine and Ngāti Porou descent, was considered to be Māoridom’s foremost legal thinker and commentator on the Treaty of Waitangi, Māori constitutional issues and international indigenous rights.
After graduating in law and criminology from Victoria University of Wellington, Jackson undertook postgraduate research with the Justice Department of the Navajo Nation in Arizona, United States of America.
On his return to New Zealand, he pursued teaching for a time, but in 1988 he undertook ground-breaking research for the then Justice Department on Māori and the criminal justice system.
In that year, he co-founded Ngā Kaiwhakamārama i Ngā Ture (the Māori legal service). His investigation into the justice system and its bias against Māori reshaped the national debate and changed our understanding of Māori law.
His seminal report, He Whaipaanga Hou, continues to influence policymakers and be discussed in law schools. He later co-founded Te Hau Tikanga (the Māori law commission).
Moana Jackson’s investigation into the justice system and its bias against Māori reshaped the national debate and changed our understanding of Māori law.
Jackson worked extensively on international indigenous issues around the world. In 1988, he was part of the first Māori delegation to the United Nation’s Working Group drafting the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
His mana and intellect were quickly recognised and, in 1990, he was elected chairperson of the Indigenous Peoples caucus of the Working Group. In that capacity, he undertook research on indigenous rights in the Pacific Islands, North and South America, the Philippines and Southern Africa.
He became an international jurist, serving as a judge on the International Tribunal of Indigenous Rights in Hawaii in 1993 and in Canada in 1995. He was also counsel for the Bougainville Interim Government during the Bougainville peace process.
Jackson was a strong campaigner against injustice and inequities. He was a highly sought-after commentator for his measured analysis of the processes of colonisation as they relate to the Treaty of Waitangi and indigenous rights, and indigenous constitutionalism and human rights more generally. He gave innumerable lectures and keynote addresses at local, national and international hui, symposia and conferences, and authored and contributed to numerous publications.
He was appointed visiting fellow at Victoria’s Faculty of Law in 1995, and was influential in shaping the curriculum of the ground-breaking Māori Laws and Philosophy programme at Te Wānanga o Raukawa.
As a well-respected Māori leader, he co-chaired, with Professor Margaret Mutu, the Independent Iwi Working Group on Constitutional Transformation. The Working Group held more than 300 hui around the country discussing the need for Treaty-based constitutional change.
Jackson was widely considered one of the most influential minds shaping indigenous rights, both in this country and internationally. As the Rt. Hon Dame Sian Elias (GNZM), former Chief Justice of New Zealand, described him in 2015, “He is one of the seriously imaginative and challenging thinkers of our time”.