Moana Jackson. (Screenshot from the upcoming documentary The Quiet Revolutionary by Tawera Productions)

No New Zealand leader’s legacy has ever seemed so important.

He’s the person who, like others who’ve paid intelligent attention to the Treaty, understood the power sharing in that 1840 deal — and he’s the one above all others who has explained how such a travesty was made of that arrangement by the waves of white colonisers bringing their comfortable and hopelessly faulty assumptions about white superiority.

That made him unique. And he was all the more distinctive because of his gentle, warm, kindly, self-effacing manner, and also because his formidable intellect and unruffled demeanour allowed him to move well past frustration and rage at the tolerance of generations of New Zealanders towards the inhuman treatment of Māori.

The path he took has become better known these days not because he sought the limelight but because his analysis of racism and colonisation stands up to any scrutiny.

As does the path forward that he’s been pointing to for decades.

Here was a quiet Hastings boy, born just after World War Two with a predominantly Ngāti Porou and Kahungunu whakapapa from an unusually talented family, embarking on a law career and bringing the intelligence, persistence and courage to provide answers to questions plaguing not just us in Aotearoa but other countries too, where Indigenous people have been copping the destructive and frequently fatal impact of colonisation.

His long illness and then his death a few days ago is a cause for tears. But we should also celebrate his life and work and teaching among us because of the legacy he has left.

His insights into the pandemic of prejudice and and injustice here in our country have been profound. They could transform Aotearoa if more of our leaders were to pay attention to his analysis and urgings.

And if they don’t, well, Moana has left behind a long line of people who will carry his flame. People he’s mentored and guided, inspired and influenced, encouraged and uplifted. Befriended and loved.

And who loved him back. Indeed, it’s hard to think of another New Zealander of our times as widely loved and respected and as profoundly influential.

Some of those people shared their insights in a documentary portrait of the quiet revolutionary that Moana Maniapoto and Toby Mills have been making for the past year. It’s just weeks away from completion, and will be shown here on E-Tangata as well as the NZ Herald.

In the meantime, we’ve gathered a few tributes and recollections here. There are sure to be many more in the coming days and weeks.

It was our great privilege here on E-Tangata to have been able to share some of Moana’s writing — and our joy to have known him.

Moe mai rā e te rangatira.


Ngahiwi Tomoana: He didn’t swerve. He didn’t flinch. He just kept on going’

Moana’s father and my father were mates. They played rugby together. His father was from the Coast and he came and married one of our nannies. And when Moana was born, my father was his godfather. We’ve been the same whānau, same hapū, same iwi ever since.

He was Moananui a Kiwa and he was also Ngāti Porou and he carried these mantles strongly with him wherever he went.

Moana’s outspokenness shocked us because he was such a shy person when he left here. Then he came back, one of the steel minds of mana motuhake and tino rangatiratanga — and knowing the tikanga and kawa of this iwi and that iwi. And then he became a legend internationally as well.

In political terms, we really got to know Moana in the ‘80s and ‘90s. It was an eye-opener for us at home. This quiet boy from home, taking on the world and not flinching in any aspect of his push for tino rangatiratanga.

He was all about restoring justice and restoring the mana to whānau, to hapū, to iwi, to waka. He never diverted attention from that, even as he was roaring in opposition to a whole lot of red-necked New Zealanders at the time, both jurists and the general public. He just marched on incessantly, perpetually, and never wavered from his sense of honouring justice for his people.

When people would approach him, from all different and varying backgrounds, with their grievances, we’d say to him: “How come you’re helping them?” And he’d say: “They’ve got no real whānau.”

And those people would pay him with a bag of onions or a bag of lemons and that was that. He never expected any payment. He just had a sense of duty and obligation to his upbringing and to his learning. And his own intellect forced him in that direction and there was no turning back.

All this had a huge impact on his wellbeing. He was taking hits and a lot of them were from Māori as well. So he became a bit more prone to health issues. If he hadn’t taken on those fights, he could quite easily have buffered himself against the health issues.

But he didn’t. He didn’t swerve. He didn’t flinch. He just kept on going.

He loved his rugby. Moana was a smooth player. He was a silky player. Just as he would talk and you’d hear the satiny quality of his words, that’s how he played too. He’d slide through gaps. He’d slip through places that no one else could slip. He’d take head-on tackles.

He was a good player, but it wasn’t his first love. His first love was his mother. He’d rather hang around his mum than go out with the boys. And he did that all his life, to honour his mother’s love.

Annette Sykes on the paepae at Matahiwi marae in Hawke’s Bay this weekend. Moana asked that she be given the right to stand and speak at his tangihanga. (Photo: Facebook)

Ani Mikaere, Annette Sykes, Mereana Pitman, Leonie Pihama: ‘We will never see his like again’

Moana Jackson. Son of Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Kahungunu, Rongomaiwāhine.

No single individual has guided the reclamation of tikanga so positively and powerfully since the genocide imposed on Māori by colonisation and Pākehā law — as a philosopher, poet, father, and creator.

People love him because he loved people. If he was there with you, he was totally there with you and with the kaupapa. Never distracted. Everyone felt important and felt their kaupapa was important.

He looked for potential in everyone and every situation. Everyone’s mana was celebrated. He would just email out of the blue: “I was thinking about what you were doing”, and uplift you with the email. In the age of technology that has been so important.

Moana was hugely influential in shaping creative spaces that shifted the ground. As the activists mobilised around Te Tiriti o Waitangi me He Wahaputanga o Te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tirene, he became the constant, principled, intellectual toka.

With He Whaipaanga Hou, he brought decolonisation and tikanga closer to how to achieve real transformation. He Whaipaanga Hou went from reform of the criminal justice system to setting the pou in the ground to show that healing and redress cannot happen without decolonisation, and then building from tikanga and te ao Māori.

The UN Declaration with Nganeko Minhinnick was his commitment to Iwi Taketake and the leadership of Māori in that space. Then Ngā kaiwhakamarama i Nga Ture, with Caren Fox, which challenged the Pākehā Law Commission with tikanga and te ao Māori. To Matike Mai, with Margaret Mutu, and the successor to He Whaipaanga Hou, which is yet to be released.

Moana always worked with strong Māori women and always he brought young people, especially young women, along. Mentoring them and championing their space.

Moana’s support for Te Wānanga Raukawa was tireless. He was hugely influential in  developing their Ahunga Tikanga programme and he was a kaiāwhina over many years. He constantly reminded staff and students that what they were doing mattered — and he inspired them to keep building on the work that had been done.

What happens now? Moana was who you went to for advice when you couldn’t figure it out. Everyone did. He came to you too at the drop of a hat and he was always present in the moment and thinking way ahead of his time.

We will never see his like again. Those who are left behind can only try.

Tangi kau ana te ngākau, haehae nei tēnei kiri ōku, kikini nei a ate. E taku ariki, e taku maruwehi e moe, e moe, e oki. Kia a koutou āna tamariki mokopuna nei te reo aroha e rere atu nei ki a koutou I te hinganga o tēnei toa horopū, o tēnei taniwha hikuroa, o tēnei ngākau māhaki kua riro atu ki te rua matariki. E tangi nei, e tangi nei.

Matike Mai Aotearoa Rangatahi at Waitangi, February 2015.

Professor Margaret Mutu: ‘His legacy will endure’

In 2021, Ngāti Kahungunu nominated Dr Te Moananui a Kiwa Jackson as the inaugural member of National Iwi Chairs Forum’s Te Whare Pūkenga, a body whose membership is reserved for those who have dedicated their lives to realising te mana Māori motuhake, He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu TIreni, Te Tiriti o Waitangi and tikanga, as the first law of this country.

The Forum unanimously endorsed the nomination. The honour recognised Moana’s formidable intellect and outstanding leadership as a scholar, lawyer, educator, motivator, facilitator and fearless advocate for Indigenous rights who helped all people understand the damage wrought by colonisation and the steps needed to transform New Zealand into the society envisaged by Te Tiriti.

He shared his knowledge, scholarship and expertise generously and selflessly with people from all sectors of society and walks of life and particularly, with young people.

His expertise was sought after both here in Aotearoa and throughout the world.  His extraordinary ability to communicate complex ideas simply and clearly saw him greatly sought after as a speaker.

His dream for Aotearoa is encapsulated in his report on the work of Matike Mai Aotearoa on constitutional transformation. He asked Māori to contribute to a discussion aimed at creating a future environment:

  • Where Māori as the Indigenous people of Aotearoa are fully recognised and respected in constitutional, political, social, cultural and economic terms.
  • Where tikanga and mātauranga Māori, He Whakaputanga and Te Tiriti are a part of the natural order of the country.
  • Where iwi and hapū are able to exercise their own mana while working in co-operation with others.
  • Where all peoples have a respected constitutional place in this country as envisaged in Te Tiriti.
  • Where a constitution for good, just, and participatory government for and by all peoples is consistent with those values and benefits everyone in the changing demographics of this country.
  • Where all New Zealanders can prosper and celebrate our heritage.
  • Where Māori can contribute positively to the growing international interest and activity around constitutional transformation encompassing the rights and authority of indigenous peoples.

Moana’s passing is a massive loss, but his legacy will endure. He spent his life sowing the seeds and nurturing the growth of a fair, just and equitable society.

E te tōtara whakaruruhau o te wao nui o Tāne, takoto mai rā, haere, hoki atu ki a rātou e tatari ana mōu. Ka mau tonu ō mahi, ā, ake tonu atu.

Sharing a laugh with Julia Whaipooti (left) and Khylee Quince. (Screenshot)

Sir Kim Workman: ‘A benchmark of Māori thinking and scholarship and wisdom today’

Moana taught my children at Wainuiomata College in the 1980s. He was also their rugby coach. Then in 1988, when I was head of prisons, he produced He Whaipaanga Hou.

At that time, I knew very little about Māori responses to the criminal justice system. So his report really opened up my eyes to what had been happening from colonial times, and what was still happening.

It was a great disappointment, to see the way that government departments, and the government itself, responded to his report, which had been three years in the making.

They basically ignored it. They only made public comment in relation to a section which talked about an alternative — the possibility of co-leadership with the Crown, and of Māori developing their own system.

There was resistance from the government of the day towards those ideas. And the resistance today towards those ideas has not really shifted.

But in the meantime, He Whaipaanga Hou has become a classic that stands as a benchmark of Māori thinking and scholarship and wisdom today.

We may all want to make a difference, but we can only make the difference if we have a solid thinking and philosophy sitting behind our efforts. Young people today can articulate that difference far better than I’m able to.

It’s a huge privilege to see dozens of young women and men leading a whole movement towards transformative reform, towards treating people of difference with compassion and love and being competent enough to say these things to a select committee, or whoever, in a respectful, authoritative and evidence-based fashion.

In my day, few people were capable of doing that. But the times are changing. And that’s largely because of Moana.

Moana Jackson, at home in Waimana, during the making of a documentary about his life and work. (Screenshot: Tawera Productions)

Claire Charters: ‘He was a true giant’

I first heard of Moana when I was at university as a young Māori student studying public law. And I remember being profoundly struck by the ideas around decolonisation that he was writing about way back then.

It wasn’t too much later that I met him when I was a young lecturer in law and starting to be involved in the international Indigenous rights movement.

He provided so much tautoko to those of us who were younger then, and who were trying to think about ways to decolonise and to realise self-determination and tino rangtiratanga through our work at law schools and in the international arena.

Moana was very much the guiding hand whenever we had any major political or theoretical conundrums. He was the person who we would always turn to, because his thinking has always been so pure, so principled, with so much integrity.

Sometimes when you’re in the swamp of arguing for Indigenous people’s rights, it’s easy to get confused and caught up with the minutiae that’s going on at the time.  Having Moana there would bring us back to the real kaupapa and set us thinking straight on the issues from a very principled place.

Many people have mentioned how softly spoken he was. I’ve often wondered whether that was a ploy because you had to lean in and listen when Moana was speaking. And so, he always commanded your full attention, not just because of the words, but because of his style of speaking. The softness of voice also spoke to his humility and aroha for all of us.

I can’t think of another Indigenous thinker who has so profoundly influenced and led us here in Aotearoa. He was a true giant. For his intellect, his kindness, for his quiet leadership, his humour, and for his ability to convey his ideas in a way that resonated with everybody, not just with Māori but across Aotearoa.

He influenced so many of us who are teaching these topics today, who are talking to our young people, who are working in this area now to achieve change, whether that’s in criminal justice, or the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous people, or in education.

But beyond the influence he had on each of us, he influenced thinking on the kaupapa of justice for Māori and tino rangatiratanga for a whole generation. He shifted that thinking in a way that is profound and will continue forever.

Today, when we look at the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous people and how we are going to enact our commitment to it, there’s nothing new about the discomfort some people feel with recognising Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the sharing of authority. That’s been going on for generations and generations.

But my feeling is that, as a nation, we’re moving forward. Whether you call it co-governance or partnership, no matter the name you give it, there’s a recognition that something needs to be done to address the inequalities facing Māori. And we know that Māori need to have control over the solutions to achieve equality for Māori.

And all of this goes back to Moana’s ideas about the need to decolonise our minds, so that we can talk freely and creatively about how we achieve justice for all in this country.


(Claire Charters, Ngahiwi Tomoana and Kim Workman spoke to Dale Husband for Radio Waatea.)

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