Whāngārā Marae welcomes home the Chief District Court Judge

By Te Kuru o te Marama Dewes

Chief Judge Heemi Taumaunu (Ngāti Konohi, Ngāti Porou) is the first Māori appointed as the Chief District Court Judge.

A special ceremony took place at Whāngarā Marae to mark the historic occasion.

Chief Judge Taumaunu took the opportunity to remember his late father and acknowledge his contribution to the marae.

“While he was alive, my father was an elder of this marae, Ngāti Konohi was his main tribe, so although he has passed away, that idea lives on within me," says Chief Judge Taumaunu.

So bringing this event to Whāngarā Marae today and taking the Oath was a no brainer, he says.

Derek Lardelli of Ngāti Konohi says, “It's just Heemi Taumaunu, but it's all of us, we of Porourangi on that side of his great grandfather of Ngāti Rangi, turning this way to his father to Ngāti Rangiuia, to Ngāti Konohi, and through to Te Waipouamu to Ngāti Huirapa on his mothers' side.”

Unprecedented in NZ, representatives from all judiciary courts of the country gathered at Whitireia to honour the special sitting.

President of the NZ Law Society Tiana Epati says it's a critical point for Aoteroa New Zealand.

“It's very rare to have an appointment where it's being celebrated right across the profession irrespective of whether you're Māori or non-Māori, he's a very very well respected, well-regarded Judge, he's a real innovator, a true visionary leader”, says Tiana Epati.

Chief Judge Taumaunu took the Oath of District Court Judge in te reo Māori, administered by Chief Justice Rt. Hon. Dame Helen Winkelmann who in her address made comparisons between Chief Judge Taumaunu and Sir Apirana Ngata who was the first Māori to gain a law degree in 1896. Praising Chief Judge Taumaunu and the manner in which he carries himself, Chief Justice Rt. Hon. Dame Helen Winkelmann stated that "humility is a hallmark of the wise".

Derek Lardelli says, “He was reared by his parents and elders first and foremost, and then he made his way up in the legal profession, reaching the highest of levels today, that's why we're here to support him and celebrate us all.”

Chief Judge Heemi Taumaunu says, “It's a happy occasion, look at the marae, my spirits are high in reaching this milestone, here with the many tribes of this country.”

Chief Judge Taumaunu led the way in the establishment of the rangatahi courts, which developed a marae-based justice system.

Referring to Chief Judge Taumaunu as the merchant of hope, Tiana Epati says, “We all know that there are negative statistics around Māori and Pacific Islanders in the Justice System, and so these moments, these great days, these firsts, that hope is on the horizon, a new day is coming.”

Chief Judge Taumaunu will hold the position for the 8 years.