An original voice for the Māori renaissance

By Te Kuru o te Marama Dewes

The Māori Law Society is honouring Justice Joseph Victor Williams (Ngāti Pūkenga, Te Arawa), following his appointed as a Judge of the Supreme Court of New Zealand. As the first Māori to attain the position, Justice Williams is a role model for a generation of aspiring Māori lawyers.

Māori Law Society member Alana Thomas says, “He is elevating our Māori culture to the whole nation, he is promoting Māori language in law, and there's no higher plateau than in the Supreme Court.”

In 1999, Justice Williams was appointed Chief Judge of the Māori Land Court.

“If we think of someone who is strong is fighting for Māori issues in law, who is passionate about Māori culture, who is committed to Māori language, there's no doubt that's him”, says Alana Thomas.

In 2000 Justice Williams was appointed as acting chair of the Waitangi Tribunal and made permanent in 2004. In 2008 he was appointed as a judge of the High Court.

Law student Eru Kapa-Kingi says, “That's Joe, an exemplary figure for us, the students, on how one can reach another plateau, he's paving a path for us to pursue. Perhaps he can gradually make a change in the legal system that shelters Māori and Pākehā here in this land.”

Justice Williams was then appointed as a judge of the Court of Appeal in 2018.

Co-President of the Māori Law Society, Glenn Tootill says, “The inspiration that he brings not just to lawyers students but the whole community, being able to see him ascend to that lofty position, it's a real inspiration for us all.”

An original voice for the Māori renaissance movement of the '80s, Justice Joe Williams is the voice behind the song “Maranga Ake Ai” by the band 'Aotearoa’.

Justice Williams will be formally acknowledged by the Māori Law Society tonight.