Indigenous rights, responsibilities and resilience

Over 200 judges, lawyers, tribal court members, thought leaders and community advocates gathered on the traditional lands of the Acjachemen and Tongva people in California USA for the World Indigenous Law Conference in October this year.


Published: Thursday, 8 December 2016 | Rāpare, 08 Hakihea, 2016

The theme of the conference, Rights, Responsibilities and Resilience, provided a compelling platform for the keynote and plenary panellists for the four day conference. Indigenous legal experts, traditional wisdom keepers and grass-roots advocates were among the numerous indigenous presenters that delivered sessions on topics that ranged from trade marks to human trafficking.

Māori were well represented amongst the speakers at the conference presenting in 8 of the 23 concurrently run sessions.

Tracey Peters (Ngāti Wai, Ngāti Whātua, Ngāti Hine) and Marama Broughton (Te Aitanga a Hauiti, Ngāti Porou, Ngā Puhi, Te Āti Awa) from Te Puni Kōkiri’s Organisational Support Legal team presented at the conference with the support of the Whakapakari Kaimahi staff development fund.

Marama and Tracey’s workshop described their journey developing the agreement between the UN and the New Zealand government regarding 43 tukutuku panels that were gifted to hang in the UN Headquarters in New York in 2015. “UN policy is that when the UN accepts a gift it becomes their property with all the rights that go with that,” says Tracey. “From their perspective the tukutuku patterns could be used by the UN for things like pins or souvenirs. That didn’t align with the weaver’s intent and the agreement we had with them.”

The resolution came when Tracey identified a clause in the UN’s Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples that described indigenous peoples' right to maintain, control, protect and develop their own cultural heritage. “As soon as we started speaking their language things changed in the negotiations. This was something that they were committed to upholding.”

 Finding common ground with other conference participants was easy according to Marama who attended the first Indigenous Law Conference in Waikato as a law student in 2012. “Although we came from really diverse parts of the globe, as indigenous peoples we have a common perspective. Something that came through clearly for me during this conference was the issue of rights vs responsibilities. Our focus should be more on the responsibility we have as tangata whenua to respect and care for our world for future generations rather than property rights.”

Resilience was another key theme of the conference. This was highlighted through the stories of colonisation shared by the participants. “Some of the kōrero was quite taumaha at times,” reveals Tracey. “The level of brutality that some indigenous peoples have endured through colonisation is really disturbing but it’s an important part of the healing to share those stories too.”

This was the third World Indigenous Law Conference. Te Hunga Rōia Māori o Aotearoa – The Māori Law Society hosted the inaugural hui at Waikato University in 2012 and were included in the line-up of convening partners from indigenous populations all over the world.

The conference is held bi-annually and is open to anyone who has an interest in indigenous legal issues. The focus of the hui is indigenous peoples’ legal rights, issues and strategies. The next hui will be held in Canada in 2018.