Linda Te Aho: Using law as a powerful tool for restoring justice

by Dale Husband
Sun 9 Apr 2017
14 min read
2

Some families manage way more than their share of achieving. And one example of that is a whānau from the Pōhara marae not far from Tokoroa.

Wally and Vivienne Papa raised their five talented kids there.

And, in this interview with Linda Te Aho, Dale gets to know more about the family and about Linda's focus on law.

 

Kia ora, Linda. Some months ago I had the pleasure of interviewing your little brother, Rahui Papa. So we know something about your family background already — that your dad was Tioriori (Wally) Papa, that your mum, Vivienne, came from England, and that Tokoroa was your home town.

Āe. We grew up in Tokoroa. We had very humble beginnings, actually. Our dad is from Ngāti Korokī Kahukura and Ngāti Mahuta ki Tai (Taharoa).

Our mother travelled over from London in the early 1960s on a programme encouraging young British people to come and have a look at New Zealand. And she liked it so much she stayed.

She and Dad had five children. The oldest is Ataahua (Ata) who now lives in Auckland after spending a long time in New York. Then there’s me. Then our sister Pānia who’s well-known because of her profile on television.

Then comes Rahui, our brother, who’s the only boy in the family. I tell people that he’s such a good facilitator and mediator because he had four strong-minded sisters to negotiate with when we were young. The youngest of us five is Wiki, who’s a teacher at Tai Wānanga here in Hamilton. She lives on our papakāinga at our marae, Pōhara.

We all miss our parents very much. They were very hardworking but they were also lots of fun. They had vibrant personalities and I think those attributes shine through in our whānau. We did a lot of kapa haka as children and as teenagers. We were part of a group called Ngā Tai Tamariki o Tokoroa. There were a few families from Tokoroa involved with that group and we’ve stayed friends ever since.

Mum was a stay-at-home mum for a long time until the younger ones reached school-age and then she went out to work. 

I wonder how Vivienne coped with things Māori after she fell in love with your dad — and I’m assuming they met at a dance where he was too cool on the dance floor for her to ignore. Right? But when you team up with someone from a different culture, there are challenges, aren’t there? What do you think your mum made of it all?

Mum immersed herself in our culture. When I was young, I remember her taking correspondence lessons and her teacher was Apirana Mahuika from Ngāti Porou. She was a life-long learner of te reo. She joined all sorts of night classes.  

Also, for a time she served as treasurer for our marae and was responsible for a lot of fundraising. She learned all our songs. In her later years, she became a kuia on our marae. We even had to call on her to karanga when our paepae was a bit short-numbered. She was amazing — an inspiration in the way she loved and embraced our culture and our whānau. She fitted right in and was much-­loved.

We lived very close to our marae of Pōhara, and my grandparents and my great-grandmother lived there in a small house on the papakāinga. We visited them often. Mum played a big part in the life of our extended whānau.

But, at the same time, she kept in touch with her parents and with her sister and brother who moved from England to Australia. We didn’t have the means to visit them very often, but they’d come over every few years.

She kept in touch by writing letters and she made us all write letters to them, too, particularly to our grandmother. Mum taught us all of her Cockney songs — because she came from the East End of London where they really enjoyed singing. And that might be why Mum had such a synergy with our Māori culture. She was a lot of fun.

What about your dad?

I’d describe him as a servant leader. He was a man of the people. He was a train driver, then a forestry worker. He was known for his work ethic and his leadership. In his 30s he realised that he’d have a role on the marae. So he joined a scheme to learn whaikōrero.

My grandparents and my great-grandmother spoke Māori in the home all the time. And that might be why our whānau has a proficiency in te reo. But Dad was part of that generation that wasn’t brought up speaking te reo, though he did understand it, so he had to learn to speak it later. And he became one of our main paepae men on our marae.

Dad was the pou of our marae in his time, and he was the chair of our marae committee for many years. He was also an iwi leader. He chaired the Raukawa Trust Board for some 20 years, he represented our marae in the Waikato-Tainui tribal parliament, Te Kauhanganui (as it was then), and he was the claimant for our Ngāti Korokī Kahukura Treaty settlement.

He’d certainly done his time out the back. So, when it was time for him to lead from the front, he was a leader that people respected and listened to. And they did so because he was very wise. Having been born and raised at Pōhara, and been a face seen at the many Waikato hui such as poukai, he was considered to be tūturu.

I’m assuming that you kids were all schooled in Tokoroa, but maybe there was no great expectation that you’d be heading for university.

Yes, we all went to school in Tokoroa. And I was the first of my marae — and, I think, of our hapū who had been raised in our homeland — that had ever gone to university.  We were all good at schoolwork and were lucky that we were able to succeed within an education system where so many of our friends and family struggled.

When I was in the seventh form, the school principal, Geoff Burridge, suggested that I should go to law school. He’d heard that I was thinking of doing a Phys Ed degree and becoming a PE teacher because I really enjoyed sport.

Once I had gone to university, and I had shown that I could cope with being away from home — although that was pretty tough in the first few weeks — the younger ones seemed to follow as a matter of course. And our older sister, Ata, went back to study as a mature student later on.

What was it about law that drew you into that field?

I had done really well in English and history at school and in essay writing competitions and so was encouraged to study law. But, when I got into law school, it was a complete culture shock to me. There was no law school at Waikato in those days, so I went to Auckland University.

Living in central Auckland and going to university there was a huge change from being in Tokoroa. There were very few Māori at Auckland law school in those days so we came to know each other quite well. We became friends with Māori students in other disciplines who joined the university kapa haka group — and that made it easier to get through.  

That’s where I met my husband, Willie Te Aho, and where I met many of my friends who are lawyers, teachers, architects, doctors and so on today. Here now at Waikato University where I’m teaching, roughly 30 percent of our students in our law faculty are Māori, so things have certainly changed.

In our last year of study, we were able to choose our options and I took Māori land law and environmental law and these are the areas that I have gone on to practise in and teach.

Was it a source of frustration that, in the course of your studies, each time you analysed aspects of the law, you could see how it has often played out against Māori aspirations rather than supporting them? Even though we’re Treaty partners.

It was actually. I learned quite quickly how law had been used as a tool to oppress our people and our culture and to take away our property rights. I saw the injustice that existed in our society and in the legal system itself. But I could also see ways that law could be used as a tool to restore justice — or to get some kind of redress to compensate for those injustices.

We were fortunate in my cohort to have, in my last year, people like Dr Ken Palmer and Ani Mikaere who pointed out not only the challenges in the legal system, but also the opportunities for making things better.

Studying law is one thing. But then marrying a lawyer as well … that’s taking it a bit far, isn’t it?

Well, often you can achieve more when you work together. Willie and I have very different skills and approaches. People say that we’ve achieved some great things for our whānau, hapū and iwi by working as a team.

Another positive is that we speak a common language and we both understand the time and energy commitment that legal work requires — it has never been a nine-to-five job.

I guess it goes without saying that there’s great respect for the work that you and Willie have done over the years. But there’s the kapa haka side to your family, too. So I wonder how you felt when you saw him and your son, Hikitia, on stage at Te Matatini, knowing how much work and pride was involved.

I was really proud of them. It had been a tough campaign this time around. I’d been too unwell to perform, so this was the first time for over a decade that I’d been in the stands as a spectator rather than being on stage with them. It was a lovely bracket from Waihīrere under the leadership of the great George and Tangiwai Ria.  

They have a legacy of excellence and they delivered that once again. It was so beautiful to listen to and watch. In fact, there were a number of parent and child, and tuakana-teina combinations on the stage that day. It is so awesome to see that intergenerational whānau aspect in groups like Waihīrere. 

Thank you, Linda. But let’s turn back to law again for a moment and focus on what you consider have been the most significant changes to law affecting Māori in recent years.

The area that I work in is Māori land and Treaty. And, in this field, there have been major changes in recent years. But they have come as a result of the work of generations of Māori leaders including Ngā Tama Toa in the 1970s, and successful litigation in the 1980s led by the New Zealand Māori Council.  

Their trailblazing has led to the whole process of Treaty settlements. For instance, following the forests case, we saw the establishment of the Crown Forestry Rental Trust and more recently the major CNI Forests settlement. And there was the Coal Corp case which ultimately led to the Waikato-Tainui Raupatu settlement in 1995 — which has helped create significant opportunities for our iwi.  

Then there was the Waikato River settlement, which was completed in 2010 — and which was the first time that decision-makers and stakeholders were compelled via legislation to look holistically at restoring the health and well-being of a waterway — for its own sake, not just for the benefits that humans can derive from a river or a lake.

And now we see collaborative stakeholder groups being established to shape policy for the region, and local government feeling really good about their holistic approach to restoring the river. That platform was laid by the Waikato River settlement. 

I’m also proud to see that other iwi have gone on to build on and adapt features of our settlement to suit their own circumstances. A recent example is the Whanganui River, which has been accorded legal personality. This settlement has developed new and innovative ways for protecting their ancestral river which are now embedded in law and policy. It’s been exciting to see developments like these arise out of Treaty settlements across the country. 

I have also seen some very recent legal developments that will be of benefit to Māori as a result of the work of the Iwi Leaders Forum and the Māori Party, such as the Mana Whakahono provisions in the amendments to the Resource Management Act, and the about-turn of the government in respect of the wording in legislation relating to the care and placement of vulnerable children.

Another development has been the agreement for the Crown to be co-managing Te Urewera with Tūhoe. And these innovations, so I understand, are having some influence overseas, too. Catherine Delahunty, one of the Green Party MPs, was suggesting that the Ganges River now has a similar status to the Whanganui — and that’s a result of India taking note of the innovative legal solution coming from Māori interests.

Well, Māori have had a huge influence internationally in the recognition of rights and responsibilities for indigenous peoples. There’s been a long history of Māori initiatives. Both King Tāwhiao and later his grandson, King Te Rata, sought audiences with British monarchs to highlight the injustices of raupatu.

Ratana travelled to the League of Nations to raise concerns about some of the things happening in Aotearoa. Later, Dame Nganeko Minhinnick and her whānau played an important role in drafting certain articles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Moana Jackson and Aroha Mead have done so too. That declaration is a really significant instrument that New Zealand voted against at the UN — and then later endorsed in 2010 when Sir Pita Sharples travelled to the UN General Assembly on behalf of the New Zealand Government to publicly announce New Zealand’s support for the declaration.

So it’s no surprise to me that Māori are influential overseas on issues such as the rights of indigenous peoples, and on ways to protect precious lands and waters so that future generations can enjoy them, too.

It’s good that we can have an influence on the way that legislation is shaped in this country, bearing in mind the bicultural foundations that the Treaty endorsed. It’s been lopsided, but it’s not all one-way traffic, is it?

No, it’s not. Te Tiriti o Waitangi was entered into by equal partners. But it wasn’t treated as an instrument of partnership for a very long time. One Chief Justice even described it as a “simple nullity”. But we’ve since had our Court of Appeal describe it as an instrument of partnership. And now we have a Chief Justice who looks upon the Treaty as an important constitutional document. 

Also, we see more and more Māori laws and concepts being incorporated into what might be called the Anglo-New Zealand legal system. And more people seem to see that adopting tikanga and a Māori worldview as being a better way of, say, looking after our environment.

They’re recognising that, if we ruin or over-exploit things now, these resources, these taonga, won’t be available for future generations. Such long-term and holistic visioning are not concepts that were evident in British-based environmental laws that were introduced here. They are sourced in an indigenous worldview that other peoples in this country are now starting to view as beneficial for all. And these concepts are being seen more and more in law and policy.

That’s encouraging isn’t it?

It is. It’s a very slow and incremental process, but there is a change happening. We’ve had the Māori seats in parliament for a long time. And they’ve grown in number from four to seven. We’ve seen seats being reserved in the regional council in the Western Bay of Plenty. We’ve adopted a similar model at the Waikato Regional Council where we have two seats reserved for Māori.

But we’ve also seen the backlash to the idea of having a Māori voice at the table in Taranaki. In parts of the country, things are changing more quickly than in others. Which is why I think the Green Party idea of legislating for positions in local government for Māori is fantastic because we have all of these innovative, creative and holistic ways of managing resources. So why not get the best of all worlds at the table debating issues and making decisions?

You awhi a lot of law students as they make their way towards legal careers. So you probably have a good grasp of whether we have enough tangata whenua legal firepower coming through the system.

There’s been a perception that maybe we’ve got too many lawyers. Or perhaps that, because we’ve settled many of our Treaty claims, we don’t need more Māori lawyers. But we do need them.

That’s because a lot of our people are suffering. Māori always seem to be on the wrong side of the statistics in terms of people who are arrested and who are in prisons and so on. They need strong advocates, and we need better solutions to deal with offending. 

We need more family lawyers who understand the concept of whānau. We need commercial lawyers who understand Māori values. We need more Māori judges. And legal skills are transferable. For instance, it’s been legal minds that have been responsible for the broadcasting of Te Matatini to the world.

So there’s always a need for fresh, young, vibrant, legal minds to come up with new ideas, solutions and approaches. That’s why I encourage Māori to come and do law. It can be such a powerful tool for restoring justice and reclaiming our rights and our culture and so on. Māori lawyers are often strong leaders and I look forward to seeing just who those new leaders are going to be.

So do I. Now, as you know, I talk to Willie on Radio Waatea each week, and I keep track of some of the projects he’s working on. So I’m aware that he’s doing a bit of farming — which probably means his wahine is too.

It’s a long story but when Ngāti Korokī Kahukura say Maungatautari is our maunga and Waikato is our awa, we’re actually living it as well. We’re taking care of our mountain through our work and contribution to the restoration project on Maungatautari — and we’re involved in restoring the health and wellbeing of the awa. 

In the title documents, the land in and around my marae is described as the last remnants of our iwi estate. It’s not much, but it survived the confiscation process in the Waikato in the 1860s. Over the years, my ancestors have worked hard to reclaim our lands.

We’ve achieved this through our settlement for Ngāti Korokī Kahukura and also by purchasing land when farms became available for sale. Our whānau members, such as Tao Tauroa, have built and maintained relationships with farmers in our area and have encouraged them to look to us as the first to approach when they want to sell and move on.

Once we were sheep farmers but now the farms have been converted to dairy. The plan has been to build up the farming business in order to acquire more land. So there have been no dividends to individuals. And, through hard work, we have purchased back lands that take us from our mountain through to our awa.

But recently we got to a point where we needed a change in governance in the tough conditions that farmers now face with climate change pressures, new regulations, and global milk prices. So we called on Willie’s skills to co-ordinate a new strategy for our whenua and he in turn has brought in expertise from the likes of Tama Brown, a director on Mangatū, and Ben Dalton’s team at the Ministry of Primary Industries. 

This new strategy has seen Willie becoming more involved in getting some of our whānau back on the land in honey businesses, improving farming performance, growing and harvesting our own food, and restoring our streams.

And they’re loving it. They’re really enjoying being part of the land, because one of the difficulties when you lease the land out to others is that you don’t have access to your whenua anymore. When you take back control of your whenua and become hands-on, people can have direct access. They can walk on the land and gather the watercress, catch eels and so on.  

Finally, let’s check if there’s something you do that’s not widely known. For example, you may be a salsa dancer or a hot-shot at crochet.

There isn’t anything too exotic about me. I’ve been involved in kapa haka all these years. Willie and I were both part of a small performance group that travelled with Hinewehi Mohi to a number of exciting places around the globe when she was called on to perform items from her Oceania album.

We performed in a jungle in Brazil, and we were there to open the America’s Cup campaign in Valencia, Spain, some years ago. We also performed at Rugby World Cup events in France — the time of that awful quarterfinal that we lost against France. So we’ve done some interesting things over the years.

But no, these days it’s mostly work, teaching and researching at Te Piringa, the Faculty of Law at Waikato University, and providing advice on law reform to ministers and to iwi leaders. I’m a marae trustee and a trustee on our settlement entity, and so there are interesting issues that arise there.

And I do enjoy supporting my sons. Hikitia is 22 and is now quite experienced on the Te Matatini stage, and Taane Aruka, who’s 17, is involved in secondary schools’ kapa haka this year as well as being in the 1st XV at Hamilton Boys’ High. So I tend to be on the rugby sidelines a fair bit. But no salsa dancing here. Not yet, anyway.

 

© e-Tangata, 2017

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