Biculturalism Provides Fundamentals for Law Students at University of Canterbury

Usually perhaps, law is not a discipline associated with multiculturalism being at its core understandings. That very notion however, is one that University of Canterbury (UC) Law Lecturer Adrienne Paul (Ngāti Awa, Ngāi Tuhoe) is delighted to share with her law students.

Aoteroa’s (New Zealand’s) indigenous Maori have inherent values from their culture that are actually fundamentally relevant to New Zealand’s law itself. For example, New Zealand law recognises that the land and rivers have equal standing.

Adrienne remarks, “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.”

Adrienne is working towards her doctorate in environmental law, focussing on the 2011 wreckage  incident of the container ship MV Rena in Ataiti (Astrolable Reef) in Bay of Plenty. The topic is particularly personal for Adrienne, as she is from Motiti Island which was impacted by the oil pollution as a result of the wreckage.

As an added bonus for Adrienne, she is heading up UC’s effort to join New Zealand’s five other Law Schools to develop a bicultural, bijural, and bilingual framework for the Bachelor of Laws degree nationwide.

“We 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,” Adrienne says.

“The significance of the project is that it aims to build the capacity of legal academics to engage with indigenous knowledge 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.”

UC has always prided itself on bicultural sensitivity and competence alike, so that their students, no matter what their discipline, understand the relevance and importance of biculturalism in their fields. The work of Adrienne and her team will go a long way to establishing New Zealand’s role on the world stage as a leading entity in multicultural competency.


Photo by Giammarco Boscaro on Unsplash


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