Old friends Moana Jackson and Tariana Turia, taken in 1997 at the opening of the Whanganui Iwi Law Centre. (Photo supplied)

Dame Tariana Turia and Moana Jackson’s friendship goes back more than 40 years. Here she reflects on her dear friend.


Moana Jackson’s bio in Imagining Decolonisation says everything about the man.

“Moana likes telling stories to and for his mokopuna and hopes they will grow up in a land where Te Tiriti is finally seen as the base for respectful political relationships. Then there will be other stories to tell.”

Moana adored his mokopuna, and he was a gifted storyteller. His life’s work was for them. Such was the humility of the man that he never presumed to speak for or of anyone else. 

Yet, as the immediate outpouring of grief following news of his passing reveals, he was widely loved, universally respected, a cherished mentor to many, an enduring influence across generations. 

Professor Margaret Mutu, the chair of Matike Mai Aotearoa, accurately reflected the mood of the nation when she said:

“His passing is a massive loss, but his legacy will endure — he spent his life sowing the seeds and nurturing the growth of a fair and just country and world.”


Our relationship has spanned over more than four decades. Moana had co-founded the Māori Legal Service in the 1980s, and was an important source of support for us at home when we occupied Pakaitore in 1995, and later established the Whānganui Iwi Law Centre in 1997.   

I have so loved him — as a great friend, a trusted confidant, and my personal constitutional adviser. We would be in the thrust of intense dialogue one minute, and then next sharing anecdotes of our mischievous mokopuna. We’d laugh uproariously at the various escapades of those who were especially haututū, and then just as quickly return to the solemn debates of the hui that we were attending.   

That’s what you can do as mates.   

I remember back in 1995, Moana and I were on a working party to review the submissions from the Hirangi hui called by Tūwharetoa chief Sir Hepi te Heuheu. Sir Hepi had wanted the hui to resurrect the issue of the consitutional significance of the Treaty of Waitangi. 

The first hui, held in January 1995 at Hirangi Marae, was attended by over one thousand Māori who were compelled to meet, outraged by the government’s proposals for the settlement of all Treaty Claims: the $1 billion “fiscal envelope”.   

The Hirangi hui described the proposals as another fundamental breach of tino rangatiratanga and rejected them in their entirety. We were incensed, furious at proposals formulated by cabinet in isolation of anyone else. We spoke out about the climate of secrecy — and challenged the Crown for working with a lack of good faith.   

The second hui, nine months later, attracted approximately 1500 representatives of iwi and Māori organisations back to Hirangi. Moana and I were joined by Annette Sykes and Professor Margaret Mutu. We chose to focus on the education of tangata whenua around decolonisation and the recognition of rangatiratanga for hapū and iwi. We also sought to achieve constitutional change acceptable to Māori in a process which reflected the relationship between Māori and the Crown.

Our recommendations led to a third hui in April 1996. We sought to define decolonisation. We were emphatic that tāngata whenua had been adversely affected by tauiwi values, processes and institutions. 

We understood, intimately, the true costs of colonisation that have resulted in loss of land, language and resources, the theft of ideas, and the denigration of indigenous spirituality. We spoke passionately about the urgency to rediscover and restore tangata whenua philosophies. We knew that strength and unity could only emerge from cultivating a deep belief in ourselves.

This is quintessentially Moana Jackson at his best. He could identify the injustice, articulate the flaws of analysis with impeccable precision, and then always return us to our own source.

My cousin, the late Rangitihi Tahuparae, spoke eloquently about the residual damage incurred by the colonial project.

Me hōki ki ngā paiaka. Mai i te urunga o Ngāi Tāua te iwi Māori ki roto i ngā kāwai mātauranga o Tauiwi, inā honotia te peka Māori ki te rākau rāwaho, he rerekē tōna hua me te rongo o tōna kiko, he kawa. Kāti tēnei te whakahoki ki ngā paiaka a kui mā, a koro mā.

Let us return to our origins. Since the time we as Māori were immersed in the knowledge streams of Tauiwi, we have become like a branch grafted to a foreign tree, producing fruit of a different quality and somewhat unpalatable. It is time that we returned to the rootstock of our ancestors.

Moana showed us the rootstock of our ancestors. He consistently reminded us of our history. He kept encouraging us to reframe issues in ways which aligned with our own cultural narrative. He never wallowed in the negative. He was a perpetual optimist, looking always for new solutions, He Whaipaanga Hou.

His groundbreaking work by that name, written in 1988, investigated the criminal justice system’s bias against Māori, placing this within the broader context of the social, economic and cultural issues that have shaped New Zealand society. 

The work is stunning in its simplicity of approach. Moana introduced his thesis — ngā kaupapa me ngā whaipaanga — a call to consider methodological issues involved in understanding Māori offending.   

He explored the many and varied threads, ngā tahu maha. 

He implored officials to investigate the causes and effects of tribal dislocation, unemployment, and cultural stereotyping. He suggested that an ethnospecific methodology combined with an analysis of systemic responses to the Māori offender was needed.  

And then he puts in place, the new threads: nga tahu hou. Essentially, it was a call for research to be based on a process of consultation with tangata whenua. Such consultation must be oral and draw heavily on the traditional Māori structure of decision-making.

An erudite scholar, Moana consistently delivered analysis which cut through dense legalese and interpreted it in a way which we could all understand. He was the master of the primer: a summary of the basic facts of matters before the court or in front of parliament. With characteristic modesty, he hoped the primer would add value to those “who wish to engage in the discussions and participate in the consultation process with the Crown”.

The primer format would have a consistent look and feel. A further primer on the foreshore and seabed, for example, was headlined with two sources of inspiration, one from his tupuna, one from the law.

I once spoke of our people who have their mana attacked being like a beached whale struggling to live . . . what I say now is to remember how often the sea casts the whale on the shore.” — Te Ataria, 1889.

“The question that must always be asked of legislation is not whether it is a legislative compromise or even whether it is practical, but whether it is just.”  — Justice Thurgood Marshall, US Supreme Court, 1970.

He was always grounded in his pride and authenticity, as uri of Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Porou and Rongomaiwahine. Tūpuna legacies inspired him; they drove him to explore solutions to contemporary challenges.  

The lore he loved would be juxtaposed against the law he knew. He would scrutinise Crown actions for both legislative legitimacy and Tiriti justice.

Consistency. Clarity. Accountability. The hallmarks of Moana Jackson. It was these qualities that earned him respect from right across the sector — from activists to academics, from politicians to community champions. 

He was able to build bridges of meaning and forge shared conversations that have fundamentally moved our progress in creating nationhood.

Nowhere is this better evidenced than in Matike Mai Aotearoa, the report of the independent working group on constitutional transformation launched on Waitangi Day in 2016. 

Moana, as the report’s convenor, described the report as the culmination of a long discussion Māori have been having since 1840 about what a Treaty-based constitution would look like. He saw the notion of a constitution being best grounded in the dialogue of ordinary people — and from those discussions, the political will should follow.

Arguably, this is one of his most important legacies. While he was renowned and acclaimed internationally for contributions made to the application of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, it was his own land, his own people, that occupied his greatest time. He was tenacious and yet so tolerant; formidable in his intellect, yet always wanting to make space for the ordinary people to contribute.

It was through his stories that we became informed. He would tell us about the shop-owner selling golliwogs — and, through that story, we started to understand the widespread impacts of racism. He took that story further to describe hate speech; to document the history of institutionalised racism as measured in the size of “pickled indigenous brains” and then to bring us back to contemporary examples: the profiling of young Māori as potential shoplifters because they “looked” criminal.

I could have listened to Moana for hours. One of his most endearing qualities was his gentle manner. His softly spoken voice which drew you close, sitting on the edge of your seat to absorb every word. He could be dismantling the Crown’s arguments, unpacking colonisation, deconstructing hierarchies, and yet it was delivered in a consistently eloquent and elegant expression. His dignity and his grace made everyone stop to listen.   

With remarkable uniformity, Moana repeated the calls to uphold and honour te ao Māori, to be driven by tikanga, to enact Te Tiriti o Waitangi, to decolonise for a better future. He was courageous in calling out injustice, in naming the behaviour.   

In 2007, in his primer Back in the mists of fear”, he classified the willingness of politicians to characterise the raids against Tūhoe in a context of terrorism, as “a regrettable act of fear-mongering”.

Yet he was never interested in the political stadium. He never wanted me to go into politics. He wanted us to be able to stand tall in the essence of our own worlds — not to be snared in the lion’s den, a servant to the Westminster halls of power.   

Like his tuakana, Sydney Keepa Jackson, Moana was fundamentally an activist. His life was shaped by the call for tino rangatiratanga. They didn’t need the trappings of the parliamentary system to define them. They opposed the ways in which settler governments had sought to replace, with an air of arrogance and a culture of privilege, the political and constitutional structures that were here long before the first four ships landed.

I loved Syd and Moana. The brothers. When I have been alone, I have wept for the loss of two pioneers. I cherish the transformation that their kōrero has made to our lives. Both different yet so inspiring with pride in standing up for our mana motuhake, our rangatiratanga, and our right to be tangata whenua in this land of Aotearoa. They were warriors who made Pākehā accountable for their racism by inspiring us to never tolerate it ever. 

Moana had been training us for this time. He has mentored, inspired, motivated, supervised and guided hundreds of Māori lawyers, students, academics and officials to use their privilege wisely. His writings are prolific, his conference presentations always thought-provoking, and inciting a call to action. 

He has led us as ordinary people towards the notion of nationhood where no one should be seen as less worthy. He has carved out a pathway for us all to stay focused on the light of a better dawn.

And, most importantly of all, his stories to his mokopuna will endure. Stories that show us the way home. Mokopuna who will keep his gift of insight blazing for the generations to come.   

Rest in love, my darling friend. Our world is better because you made it so.


© E-Tangata, 2022

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