Bicultural lessons a firm foundation for Aotearoa Law students

22 October 2020

University of Canterbury (UC) Law Lecturer Adrienne Paul (Ngāti Awa, Ngāi Tuhoe) has only been with the University of Canterbury (UC) since January but is already changing how bicultural lessons are woven into the Bachelor of Laws programme.

  • Adrienne Paul, UC

    Adrienne teaches Māori Land Law at UC as well as teaching into a number of other level 1 and 2 Law papers.

Adrienne teaches Māori Land Law at UC as well as teaching into a number of other level 1 and 2 Law papers.

“It’s really cool to see my students grapple with and understand that rivers and mountains in Aotearoa have the same rights as people in a court of law, and we see this through the Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claims Settlement) Act 2017, whereby the Whanganui River is stated as a legal person.”

This unique characteristic of Aotearoa law recognises the Māori belief that humans are equal with everything including land and rivers.

Adrienne is working towards her doctorate in International Environmental Law, aiming to finish in 2022. She chose to use the example of the container ship MV Rena, which grounded on Otaiti (Astrolabe Reef) in the Bay of Plenty, as it was a major environmental disaster in New Zealand waters.

“The PhD is personal to me because I’m from Motiti Island which was impacted by the oil pollution and debris of the MV Rena. I was involved in the legal and cultural discussions at the time. It was this experience that inspired me to undertake research in Māori legal issues within the environment.”

Adrienne is passionate about Māori law being a foundational part of legal education in Aotearoa and is UC’s lead in a project, spanning all Aotearoa’s six Law Schools, to develop a framework to teach a bijural, bicultural and bilingual legal education into the Bachelor of Laws degree nationwide.

The project published its first issue paper in August 2020 entitled: Inspiring National Indigenous Legal Education for Aotearoa New Zealand’s Bachelor of Laws Degree.

“We [the project team] are looking at countries like Canada and Australia to see how they have incorporated the beliefs of their indigenous people into legal education and with building a community of legal practice to support this implementation,” she says.

“The significance of the project is that it aims to build the capacity of legal academics to engage with indigenous knowledge’s and Indigenous Cultural Competency in their work. Therefore, all law students will benefit from this engagement and take this knowledge with them into their legal practice.”

Led by 16 Māori legal academics, the multi-year project has three phases. Phase 1 will support Aotearoa Māori law academics to have the space and time to reflect on why and how Māori law could become a foundational component of the law school curriculum. In phase 2 extensive feedback will be sought from stakeholders nationwide on the proposal with the outcome of another issues paper on the opportunities and challenges for embracing Māori law into the Bachelor of Laws degree. This feedback will inform phase 3, which will result in the development of an action plan to teach Māori law in all Bachelor of Law degrees in Aotearoa New Zealand.

UC strives to instil bicultural competence and confidence in all UC graduates so they understand the nature and relevance of biculturalism to their area of study. UC is committed to promoting an understanding of Aotearoa New Zealand’s place in the world and its cultural distinctiveness. Having UC’s Te Kura Ture | School of Law involved with this project enhances UC’s commitment to instilling bicultural competence and confidence.

UC Communications team,, Ph: (03) 369 3631 or 027 503 0168

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