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  • Kaea Hudson

Best of Both Worlds

Published in partnership with Salient Magazine (Victoria University of Wellington student magazine) and Ngāi Tauira.

Starting next year, tīkanga and te ao Māori will be included in the teaching of all core Law papers, bringing together Māori and pākehā legal systems. But... will it be the best of both worlds?

In the iconic show Hannah Montana, Miley Cyrus becomes a superstar under the alias Hannah Montana. The show focuses on her “double-life” and the difficulties she faces as they come together. Here, I draw similarities between the show and the situation Māori Law students are currently facing. Historically, Māori followed their own kawa and tikanga. Since colonisation, we have been subject to British law under the Westminster legal system. Nowadays, Māori legal academics are working towards creating a “bijural” system that combines our two systems of law. This is easier said than done.

In the show, Billy Ray was in a unique position to make decisions for Miley as both her father and manager (as well as being the adult). He always tried to do what was best for her, even if Miley didn’t like it at the time. Like Miley, we are subject to the decisions of others, including the Council of Legal Education (CLE). However, we aren’t troublemaking 14-year-old, WE DESERVE A BIGGER SAY!

Many tauira feel blindsided by the CLE decision. We have only just begun to hear about it, and it’s coming into effect next year. Thanks for the heads up? What’s more, the committee of students who were consulted during this process didn’t include a single Māori student. We feel like we’ve been left out. This isn’t the time to lock us in our rooms while the ‘adults’ talk. This decision will have real and immediate impacts on our lives. We are key stakeholders and should be treated as priorities.

If Miley and Billy Ray taught us anything, it’s that logistically, leading a double-life is hard, and bringing those lives together is even harder. There is more to consider in this situation than forgetting to put on a wig or losing your moustache. There are practical things that will make teaching tikanga difficult. I don’t think our Law schools are ready for this. We are being taught predominantly by pākeha lecturers who are experts in the law, not te ao Māori. So why are we giving them the power to teach it like they are? Tauira have serious concerns about pākeha teaching Māori terms, especially what happens when it goes wrong. Hannah says that “nobody is perfect” and “everybody makes mistakes”, but can the benefit of the doubt really extend so far?

Miley values and wants to protect her core identity. She’s scared that if she gives in to being “all Hannah, all the time” she will lose her sense of self. Tauira Māori have similar concerns about the integrity of tikanga if taught in pākeha institutions. Our tikanga are taonga that are incredibly special to us. I’m inherently distrustful of anything that I believe could harm it. But maybe I’m just an overthinker like Lilly Truscott. There needs to be more guidance around how tikanga can be taught safely on a wide scale, without being whitewashed. Hannah sings “you’ll always find your way back home”—maybe she’s right. The core values of our tikanga could be preserved while being taught to the masses. I think Hannah is an optimist. I don’t think I am.

Miley was never sure if her life would change for the better or the worst if her two personas became one. We don’t know the full effects of combining our law systems. If this fusion was a TV show, the CLE decision would only be one episode. We don’t know if there’s a happy ending because we aren’t finished yet. That means we still have time to do it right.

So, here’s to hoping that if we mix it all together, we’ll know that it’s the best of both worlds.


Written by Kaea Hudson (She/Her)

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air


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