The AUT Law School looks to boost research into indigenous law with the opening of its Centre for Indigenous Rights and Law.
AUT Senior Lecturer and Centre Co-Director, Khylee Quince, says the key focus of the Centre is to give prominence to indigenous law and laws affecting indigenous people both here in Aotearoa, but also across the Asia-Pacific region and beyond.
Alongside research, the Centre for Indigenous Rights and Law will be collaborating with other universities and academics, and hosting conferences and public talks to disseminate the research and scholarship on indigenous rights and law, says Quince.
“We’ll also contribute to the teaching of both undergraduate and postgraduate law at AUT, doing that in a way that is appropriate, respectful, meaningful and useful to indigenous people, including us as tangata whenua,” she says.
The Centre was officially launched on 5 April, with attendees including the Honourable Michael Kirby, the Rt Hon Sir Edmund Thomas KNZM QC, Justice Christian Whata and a number of legal academics and practitioners. Justice Kirby spoke on the theme of reconciliation alongside the Māori Land Court Judge Layne Harvey and Ebony Duff of the National Māori Radio Network Te Whakaruruhau o Ngā Māori.
Kirby, a former Justice of the High Court of Australia, is on the Centre’s advisory panel alongside Professor Richard Monette of the University of Wisconsin Law School, and AUT Law School’s Professor Kris Gledhill.
Kirby says he is very proud to be appointed as an advisor to the Centre and is looking to take some of the learning and research back to Australia. He noted the unreasonably high rates of incarceration of indigenous peoples across the world, including in Australia and NZ.
“The Aboriginal people of Australia are the most incarcerated people on our planet, on a per capita basis, and it is a truly shocking thing. It’s basically come about by dispossession of the wherewithal to ensure education, housing and heath. If you take away people’s land and if you take away their economic capacity you shouldn’t be surprised when they then fall into the situation where they are 27% of the prison population,” he says.
A report released last month in Australia, Pathways to Justice – Inquiry into the Incarceration Rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, revealed 27% of the prison population was Aboriginal, with Aboriginal women making up 34% of the female prison population – higher than the imprisonment rate for both non-indigenous men and women.
“I congratulate the Auckland University of Technology. I think this really is a trailblazing initiative, not just to focus on New Zealand but to focus on the essential question of the injustices suffered by indigenous people during the years of the Empire.
“And if we can all learn from each other we can learn of the wrongs and we can learn of the ways the wrongs can be righted,” says Justice Kirby.