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Ngai Tahu supports indigenous law research

Te Rûnanga o NGÂI TAHU
11 December 2003

Ngai Tahu supports indigenous law research at Victoria

Victoria University's School of Law and Ngai Tahu will announce a partnership tonight (December 11) to further legal research and learning on indigenous issues in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Dr Paul McHugh, a New Zealander based at Cambridge University who has played a key role in the recognition of customary rights, will spend 11 weeks each year for the next four years at Victoria University teaching, researching and sharing his knowledge with the legal community. He will arrive in New Zealand in July 2004.

The position will be called the Ashley McHugh-Ngai Tahu Visiting Professor of Law, to honour Dr McHugh's father, the late Judge Ashley McHugh, who presided over the Waitangi Tribunal hearing of the Ngai Tahu claim.

“Ngai Tahu called Dad ‘Mahakuri’ (great rock) and at his funeral Sir Tipene O’Regan placed a pounamu stone beside him as a sign of his mana and importance to Ngai Tahu in helping them regain their taonga,” says Dr McHugh.

Paul McHugh, a Victoria alumnus (LLB 1980), is one of the world’s leading authorities on indigenous issues. He wrote his PhD dissertation at Cambridge University on 'the aboriginal rights of the New Zealand Maori at Common Law'. Papers that followed from that research introduced principals in the area of common law aboriginal title in New Zealand. When Justice Williamson applied the principles in a fisheries prosecution, making direct reference to Dr McHugh’s two articles, for the first time in the 20th Century, aboriginal fishing rights were recognised in a court as out-trumping Fisheries Regulations.

Dr Te Maire Tau, Ngai Tahu, says that the iwi recognises the important role played by Victoria University and the intellectual community in New Zealand.

“We believe Ngai Tahu has a responsibility to stimulate discussion and critical debate on issues concerning indigenous people.

“Ngai Tahu believes that Paul McHugh was critical to the elevation of customary rights from a marginal field of interest to one that had a huge impact on Maori-Crown understanding of Treaty rights. Likewise his father was respected by Ngai Tahu for the role he played in leading the Ngai Tahu tribunal,” says Dr Tau.

Dr Paul McHugh has just finished a major book on Aboriginal Societies and the Common Law - A History of Sovereignty, Status and Self-Determination, and is working on a public essay on New Zealand’s constitutional identity, which he plans to present during his Wellington visit.

Professor Matthew Palmer, Dean of the School of Law, says that Dr McHugh is also interested in the history of public law in New Zealand and hopes to explore this further with some of the young scholars at Victoria University and through the New Zealand Centre for Public Law.

“During Paul’s time with us, he will teach and research, and make an important contribution to the national dialogue on Treaty and customary rights issues. The fact that his visit is made possible by funding from, and an initiative of, Ngai Tahu is a partnership that makes this endeavour all the more special. It is an honour to the Law School and Victoria University,” he says.


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