I became interested in Maori Land Law as a fourth year student of law attending the University of Otago. Unfortunately, this aspect of law was not formally taught in any of the prescribed subjects so I deceided to canvass staff for assistance. Despite proclaiming interest, all members of staff, candidly disclaimed any knowledge of both Maori land and Maori land law. Unthwarted, I enquired amongst practising members of the profession. To my surprise, practitioners either arrogantly laughed off their ignorance, and justified this by submitting that there was little Maori land to merit their attention, or embarrassingly admitted being overawed by the complexities of a law and a culture that is, ironically, mostly foreign to them. Unfortunately I soon discovered that this was a national problem. It is patently clear, then, that Maori land law is an area of law which is neglected by both academics and practitioners.
What, then, are the consequences of this? Such an oversight directly disadvantages the intended beneficiaries of Maori of Maori land legislation, namely, Maori land owners who are primarily Maori people. These owners are forced to conform to a law which is complex, both substantively and procedurally, while being denied the benefit of legal advice. In some cases, goodwilled people have offered legal advice but, through their lack of expertise, their advice is often, but not always, inaccurate and/or incomplete. This is an entirely unsatisfactory position which stimulated me to write a paper on Maori land law as an attempt, amongst other things, to offer some modest guidance to practitioners in an area where such assistance has been sadly lacking.
To me, one of the major causes of the profession's neglect of Maori land law has been its past omission from university law courses and, as a consequence of this, the lack of written material available on Maori land legislation. Although the relative lack of money, and the opportunity costs of practising Maori land law, have also been important causative elements. But there is a large body of practitioners who avoid clients with Maori land problems because they perceive it as being too complicated. As a corollary to this, the absence of a current text book means there is no simple form of reference. Hopefully, this paper will fill part of that gap.
For similar reasons, I also see this paper as an attempt to stimulate academic interest. Academics, like practitioners, also need initial tutoring to help them find their feet. Their involvement in the discovery of Maori land law is necessary because the legislation is in dire need of reform. At present, it is a hotchpotch of provisions, gradually accumulated over time, lacking, inter alia, political continuity. It is allowed to exist virtually unchallenged because so few people are aware of the problems. Again, the cause of this associated with the general lack of education in Maori land law.
The motivation for this paper is, then, a concern about the neglect of Maori land law by the legal profession as a whole, which has come about because of its past omission from legal education. In a small way, this paper attempts to offer some remedy.
Although this paper will essentially focus on one aspect of the law it will, I hope, provide a platform for future interest. As a postscript, I hope that it will also stimulate interest in other related topics such as issues regarding the Treaty of Waitangi. Such other topics have similarly been mostly neglected by legal educators. It is only recently that non-Maori are seeing these issues as pivotal in terms of future race relations in New Zealand. For Maori, they have generally always been fundamental. No reira, kia kaha.||