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Māori law lecturer joins Faculty of Law

Friday 11 September 2020 9:30am

Mihiata Pirini image
Mihiata Pirini joins the Faculty of Law as a Māori lecturer.

Mihiata Pirini (Tūwharetoa, Whakatōhea) has recently been appointed as a Māori lecturer at the University of Otago’s Faculty of Law, bringing with her an array of expertise and experience.

Professor Jessica Palmer, Faculty of Law Dean, says Ms Pirini’s appointment augments research and teaching capabilities in a number of key areas, all of which have important implications for policy, understandings of judicial processes, and how future generations of lawyers practise in Aotearoa, New Zealand.  

“I am thrilled to welcome Mihiata as our second full-time Māori law lecturer. Mihiata brings expertise in Treaty of Waitangi, Māori land law, tikanga Māori, legal design and law reform. She has previously worked in the Crown Law’s Treaty of Waitangi team and the New Zealand Law Commission.

“She will play an important part in our first year law course teaching students about the fundamentals of the NZ legal systems, as well as teaching elective courses to our senior students in her areas of expertise”, she says.

Born in Wellington, Ms Pirini recalls growing up in Wadestown, at the top of Te Ahumairangi, in a little settlement of approximately 14 houses with a main courtyard.

“It was a wonderful place to grow up because all the kids in all the houses could run freely - it was a great community feel,” she says.

Attending primary school and high school in Wadestown and then Victoria University where she completed a Law and French degree, Ms Pirini's career pathway led her here to the University of Otago where she completed a Master of Laws after being awarded a one-off University of Otago Legal Issues Centre and Ngā Pae o te Maramatanga (Aotearoa’s Māori Centre of Research Excellence) scholarship.

Law was a first choice career pathway for Ms Pirini.

Throughout her schooling, she was always very opinionated and enjoyed languages and words, she says.

She was drawn to law because to her understanding, it was all about the combination of argument and the use of words.

“I was also interested in a qualification that would set me up quite well for the workforce, I felt like there was a lot of options out there for me, with a law degree.”

Ms Pirini says she wants to communicate with and challenge law students to reflect on the ways that tikanga inform life, and legal life in New Zealand, providing a space to explore thought and discussion about where we see tikanga at home, in the workplace, in the community.

“Law is everywhere and so could be the way that we understand the world in terms of tikanga,” she says.

Te Roopū Whai Pūtake is so excited that the Faculty has welcomed our new Māori Law Lecturer Mihiata Pirini, says Nerys Udy.

“Mihiata is an outstanding scholar. It is a wonderful new experience for me to now have a colleague who I can share with and be inspired by to further decolonise our Aotearoa New Zealand legal system, to think imaginatively about the role of law in reconciliation with tangata whenua”.

It has been twenty years since another Māori law lecturer has been appointed. It is really significant to have her in the Faculty, as it is so important for Māori tauira to have lecturers who understand their perspectives and ways of thinking about the world.

“Mihiata has already provided invaluable tautoko to our rōpū, engaging with students and acting as a judge in the most recent Kaupapa Māori Mooting Competition,” Nerys says.

"Her arrival has also highlighted the need for more Māori lecturers not only in the Law School but across the University, to ensure that the unique perspective that Te Ao Māori can offer is heard in academic spaces which are often Pākehā dominated.

"Her appointment follows 21 years on from the appointment of our now Professor Jacinta Ruru and it is vital that another 20 years does not pass before we see more Māori Law lecturers.”

Nerys firmly believes that the road to making that happens starts in Law School itself, and this is central to our Te Roopū Whai Pūtake’s goal of supporting all Māori tauira throughout their law journey.

“We are always humbled by the support that lecturers across the Law Faculty provide us in this goal and we are so thrilled to have Mihiata here as another inspiring Māori role model for our tauira.”

Professor Palmer says she was excited to hear Ms Pirini’s father speak of her passion and perfectionism at the faculty’s mihi whakatau to welcome her.

“These are two qualities that will hold her in good stead as she begins her academic career,” Professor Palmer says.

“Mihiata is a talented and capable lawyer, and we look forward to her teaching and research further strengthening our understanding of Māori legal issues and inspiring our Māori tauira.”

Professor Jacinta Ruru is really excited to have Ms Pirini as a colleague.

“Mihiata is an outstanding scholar. It is a wonderful new experience for me to now have a colleague who I can share with and be inspired by to further decolonise our Aotearoa New Zealand legal system, to think imaginatively about the role of law in reconciliation with tangata whenua”.

She hopes this is the start of a new employment momentum in the Faculty of Law and can see overwhelming benefits for all law students at Otago.

Professor Ruru says we need to prepare our law students to work in a profession that is becoming more attuned to the possibilities of recognising the first laws of Aotearoa New Zealand: Māori law. Ms Pirini is a super special scholar who will no doubt have a huge impact on the development of law in this country, Professor Ruru says.