Moana Jackson in 2020 (Photo: Unity Wellington via Facebook)
Moana Jackson in 2020 (Photo: Unity Wellington via Facebook)

ĀteaMarch 31, 2022

Moe mai rā: Moana Jackson, 1945-2022

Moana Jackson in 2020 (Photo: Unity Wellington via Facebook)
Moana Jackson in 2020 (Photo: Unity Wellington via Facebook)

Moana Jackson had a profound impact on thousands of lives. Just a few of them share their thoughts on the esteemed lawyer and teacher who passed today.

This feels devastating. As it should

E te whatukura, haere e koro, haere atu ra.

Right now upon hearing of the death of Moana Jackson, I’m finding it a massive challenge to overcome shock and deep pain at this loss – to write some good words.

The loss feels immensely bigger than I can sustain at this time. I was one of many thousands who felt personally nurtured and supported by him – while he continued to be a rock and a backbone for us collectively also.

“What would Moana say?” is pretty much the principle of any issue that comes before us – not just in te ao Māori but across global work to make our earth a better place and to keep our hope and humanity at the forefront.

He truly was always the best of us. He held the space for us to dream and have enduring aspirations. And he did it while keeping his mokopuna as the centrepoint of all of his kōrero. The link between generations and our hope for the many to come, was a constant koha to us all.

Thinking of his whānau and mokopuna and everyone who took the utmost care of him through his life, who loved and cherished him for all of us. I am thinking of their loss, and trying not to feel so selfish about mine.

I know he was a leader for too many reasons, for so many people here in Aotearoa and across the planet, across many generations and he will remain so for generations to come.

This feels devastating. As it should.

Aroha mutunga kore Moana, we love you, we are bereft.

– Marama Davidson, Greens co-leader

A teacher and gift giver

When I woke up this morning I wondered why the tūī sang so loudly. I know now they were sharing the news that a great tōtara has fallen in Te Wao nui a Tāne. Moana taught me that gentleness and bravery belong together; that you can walk softly in the domain of Tūmatauenga. He taught me that a mind is a weapon, but that it must be kept sharp with compassion and a deep respect for the mana of all people.

His words of encouragement have found me at some of my lowest ebbs as a writer, lighting the path again when it had gone dark. We can never repay the gifts he’s given us all as a thinker, a leader and as a sweet, funny, perceptive friend, but we can remember the lessons he taught us: that we are more than what colonisation has given us. The legacy of our ancestors, and the legacy of Moana Jackson, is joy and perseverance.

E te poutokomanawa, e te rangatira.

Haere ki te kainga tūturu, haere ki te kainga rangimārie. Haere ki te pō, ki te pō nui, ki te pō roa. Haere ki te pō i u ai tō moe. Moe mai rā. Moe mai rā.

– Leonie Hayden, Nē? co-host, former Ātea editor

He wrote the words I was looking for

Moana Jackson is a role model for generations of Māori lawyers. His paper, He Whaipaanga Hou, had the words I was looking for as a student to explain the disproportionate treatment of Māori in our justice system. He was a humble, deeply caring and sharp thinker who generously gave his time to many students.

His loss is felt by many because he was a mentor and leader to so many. Whether you were a judge, a student or a defendant, Moana Jackson treated you with the same care and dignity. Moe mai e te rangatira.

– Kingi Snelgar, lawyer and Fulbright scholar

It will be impossible not to notice the gap he leaves behind 

Matua Moana always made time for me and for People Against Prisons Aotearoa, as he always did for anybody younger than him. We launched PAPA’s book in 2016 and this eminent rangatira strode right up to us to tell us how proud he was of the work we were doing. I worked with Moana – under his whāriki, I suppose – as a prison abolitionist but also as a friend. It was our organisation’s privilege to host him as a speaker, but also my pleasure to spend time with him in his home. Even in private he was the exact same calm, nurturing presence we had all come to rely on. His mana was only enhanced by the mokopuna crawling all over him.

Many people will probably utter the whakataukī “kua hinga te tōtara i te wao nui a Tāne” today. They’re not wrong. Moana’s life was a long one, and from his landmark report He Whaipaanga Hou onward he achieved many things in the struggle for tino rangatiratanga. It will be impossible not to notice the loss, the gap that Moana has left behind in his absence. But even though trees might fall, still they shed seeds. Moana committed himself to that. He has left us, but he has also prepared the conditions necessary for us to carry on his work. And we will. But we will grieve first.

– Emilie Rākete, People Against Prisons Aotearoa

Moana Jackson receiving his honourary doctorate from Victoria University. (Photo: Leonie Pihama)

His legacy will endure

Moana shared his knowledge, scholarship and expertise generously and selflessly with many thousands of people, and particularly young people, from all sectors of society and walks of life both here in Aotearoa and throughout the world. His dream for Aotearoa is encapsulated in his report on the work of Matike Mai Aotearoa on constitutional transformation:

  • that Māori are fully recognised and respected as tangata whenua;
  • that tikanga, mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge), He Whakaputanga (the 1835 Declaration of sovereignty) and Te Tiriti o Waitangi are part of the natural order of the country;
  • where all peoples have a respected constitutional place;
  • we have a constitution for good, just and participatory government for and by all peoples that is consistent with agreed values and benefits everyone;
  • and that all New Zealanders prosper and celebrate our heritage.

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.

– Margaret Mutu, professor of Māori studies at the University of Auckland and chair of Matike Mai Aotearoa, which Moana Jackson convened

A generosity of spirit in all directions

What words are there to honour such a person? I want to rise to the occasion for Matua Moana, especially for his love of words, his love of stories and his love of people. For his whānau and his beloved mokopuna. For his dedication to justice. But words fail me in this moment and I feel inadequate to the task.

So, two images: tuatahi, he invites me to his house and makes the lightest, most delicious scones. On entering, he introduces his tupuna and then his mokopuna via the pictures on his walls. His home is full of taonga and stories. We talk and feast. Not long after, I meet another writer who knows him and within minutes we are talking about Moana’s famous scones, his incredible manaakitanga. Tuarua, he writes to ask how I am doing. We have been corresponding while we were both sick, though I have recovered and he has not. I fumble for something to share with him that might take his mind off his pain. I share this now only to say, this is the kind of man he was. I don’t think I ever stopped being astonished and humbled by the generosity with which he extended the hand of friendship.

He had so many other more important calls on his time, but I know I wasn’t the only one. That kind of generosity of spirit extends in all directions. So all I can say is that he was a great man. And it was an honour to know him. His words and the way he chose to be in this world will continue to be a guiding light to me in the stories I write and the life I live. I am so sad that he has gone.

E Moana, rest easy now. You worked hard for us. It has been an immense privilege to share this time on earth with you. Moe mai e te rangatira.

– Tina Makereti, novelist

His voice will continue to be heard

When I think of Moana, the things that come to mind first are his gentleness, his humility, and his staunchness – his steadfast adherence to principle. He demonstrated how strength comes, not from being the loudest voice in the room, but by always acting in ways that are tika, and according to principle. 

Moana’s intellectual contribution goes without saying – He Whaipaanga Hou and the report of Matike Mai Aotearoa, to name just a couple of examples, are both ground-breaking and continue to drive and shape our discussions of justice systems and constitutional transformation. He was an amazing and inspiring speaker. No matter which clever people he was speaking alongside, his thinking always seemed to be a couple of steps ahead of everyone else. And such an engaging presenter – you would need to lean in and focus to make sure you caught those quietly spoken words, all linked together with the stories of his mokopuna, and the challenge for us all to strive for a more just society.  A lot of the work he did was really heavy, and I know he sometimes felt the weight of it, but he always made time to talk with our Māori law students and I loved to see both he and the students fortified and inspired by those conversations. 

I will greatly miss his warm, generous and thoughtful presence but I know, through the influence he has had on so many people, his gentle, principled voice for justice in Aotearoa will continue to be heard. 

– Carwyn Jones, pūkenga matua (lead academic) in the Ahunga Tikanga (Māori Laws and Philosophy) programme at Te Wānanga o Raukawa

A masterful storyteller

I have fan-girled Matua Moana for over 30 years. As a law student his work brought us as Māori, our ways of thinking, being and doing – as well as our experiences of colonisation and Te Tiriti  and its ongoing impacts – into university classrooms, which was transformative. When I became a baby academic, Moana was unfailingly kind, supportive and encouraging to those of us trailing behind him, particularly wāhine Maori. He was gracious in sharing his work with others for comment, and he always made time for those who called upon him, often to his own detriment.

The real magic of Moana Jackson was his ability to say profoundly radical and transformative things in such a calm and measured manner that they seemed logical and simple – plans for power sharing, constitutional transformation, decolonisation and prison abolition. More importantly, he made us believe in ourselves and our ability to survive and flourish as iwi Māori. He was a masterful storyteller, taking lessons from traditional purakau through to everyday interactions. Moana could engage with anyone – from the chief justice, to inmates to nannies. I would always take a deep breath when I saw an email from him in my inbox – it could be asking a deeply philosophical question, or it could be him saying that he liked the look of my cinnamon buns in my latest Facebook post. I will miss him dearly.

– Khylee Quince, dean of law, AUT Law School

A mentor to the whole Māori law profession

The heart aches today and the tears flow freely.  Moana Jackson was a beautiful soul who touched and shaped many people – including a generation of Māori lawyers.  I was one of those who were privileged to be the beneficiary of his thought-leadership, his kind mentorship and his uncanny ability to wedge his way into one’s conscience and sit there as a permanent and critical reminder of “the kaupapa”.

Moana can only be described as a visionary whose thinking has changed and challenged Aotearoa for the better.  He asked us all to think deeply about colonisation and reimagine a Te Tiriti o Waitangi based future where Māori are well and thriving as Māori.

In addition to his intellect, one of the things I will remember most about Moana is the pin-drop silence that occurred whenever he opened his mouth.  It was always a strain to hear his soft, gentle, clear and powerful oratory.  It taught me that advocacy can come in many forms.  The kind, courageous and patient way that he dealt with hostility and complex systemic issues was legendary.  Moe mai rā e te rangatira.  We will miss your stories.

– Natalie Coates, tumuaki Kahui Law

He showed that kindness is not incompatible with strength

Last year I took a public law paper at Victoria University of Wellington, Moana Jackson’s alma mater. The course covered everything from the sources of our constitution, to the Bill of Rights, to the intricacies of judicial review. But it was during a phone conversation with Moana one night that the disparate threads of the subject really began to cohere in my mind, when the significance of these musty and often archaic concepts came together in an understanding that felt more than theoretical. An understanding that felt urgent.

We were talking about the occupation at Ihumātao, the obligations and derelictions of the Crown, and the broader trend of both recent and historical Māori land movements. I asked something about settlements which must have been painful in its naivety, but in that gentle but uncompromising way typical of Moana, he told me “treaties are not meant to be settled, they’re meant to be honoured”.

My entire conceptualisation of te Tiriti was thrown on its head. The settlement process, itself a phrase that implies an eventual end, only brings us back to the start line. It seems so obvious in hindsight.

When I heard Moana had passed away, I was midway through his 1992 paper The Treaty and the Word: The Colonisation of Māori Philosophy. In it, he writes that “while Pākehā politicians no longer reject a notion of Māori rights, they see it sourced in their authority through biculturalism, rather than in Māori authority through rangatiratanga.

“Pākehā lawyers, judges and institutions such as the Waitangi Tribunal no longer dismiss the concept of rangatiratanga: they simply redefine it as a limited form of property right. And Pākehā academics frame the whole discussion of Māori rights within a bicultural jurisprudence of the wairua that is consistent with the common law. Those who pursue such views are neo-colonists who neither understand nor respect Māori culture.”

“But the pain will end,” he writes, “because as Māori we are now seeking to reclaim the validity of our own institutions, the specifics of our own faith, and the truths of our own history.”

On first reading, the righteous ferocity of Moana’s work from 1992 seemed at odds with the warm, patient orator who so generously picked up my call. But in his writings, in his speeches and wānanga, again and again he showed that kindness is not incompatible with strength. It’s a prerequisite.

And so as those in the political sphere look to once again relitigate the relationship between tangata whenua and the Crown, to use what was promised as a cudgel, Moana’s fierce grace is an example and a challenge to us all. I hope I can live up to it.

Moe mai rā e te rangatira.

– Don Rowe, law student and former Spinoff staff writer

Mad Chapman, Editor
Aotearoa continues to adapt to a new reality and The Spinoff is right there, sorting fact from fiction to bring you the latest updates and biggest stories. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

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