I was fortunate enough to attend a ceremony over the weekend for someone who was being admitted as a barrister of the High Court, otherwise known as being "admitted to the bar".
Being admitted to the bar is the final step in a long road to being able to practise law here in Aotearoa. It is a feat achieved by few and requires dedication, hard work, and persistence.
Usually, admission ceremonies take place in the High Court itself. However, Saturday's ceremony took place at Terenga Paraoa Marae in Whangārei.
Langdon Bradley, the man being admitted to the bar, had successfully requested the ceremony take place at his marae, before his friends, whānau, and fellow practitioners of the law. The father of nine's admission is one of only a handful to have taken place on a marae in the history of Aotearoa and was the very first in Te Tai Tokerau.
With around 100 people in attendance, the ceremony began with a traditional welcome, or whakatau, led by the tangata whenua. The locals welcomed the judges, lawyers, and representatives of the Crown to their whare. They spoke of the immense pride they had for Langdon and his journey, the adversity he had overcome, and the significance of his achievements for his people. The local welcomes were then responded to by Judge Greg Davis, who acknowledged his kinship ties to Bradley and some of the speakers who had welcomed the manuhiri.
Whilst I don't speak for all Māori, I think it's fair to say that a courtroom is generally an intimidating place for us. However, this courtroom was obviously different. The judges, registrars, and a Coroner - almost all of whom were Māori - sat at the front of the whare, beneath the whakairo depicting the tales and history of the local people. They all spoke in reo Māori before translating into English.
Behind them stood a wall adorned with photos of the tupuna belonging to this sacred house and a table with photos of Langdon's loved ones who had passed on. The faces in the photos almost seemed to come alive with pride and joy as they bore witness to the spectacle unfolding before them.
After it was moved that Bradley be admitted as a barrister of the Court, the floor was opened to him for the first time. Cloaked in a korowai, Langdon spoke of his journey to this point, the sorrow he felt knowing his mother was not able to be there ā-tinana – in person – but acknowledging that she was there ā-wairua – in spirit - to witness his admission.
Bradley also acknowledged the significance of his admission taking place in a marae. He referred to the Coat of Arms of New Zealand and how it represented the coming together of two peoples. Bradley said he wished to see more integration of te ao Māori in the justice system.
Following Langdon's speech, members of his whānau stood to offer their words of congratulation. They also shared the feelings of pride and joy. His whānau spoke about how Langdon was a positive role model for them and joked about one of them "finally being on the right side of the law".
One speaker talked about how Langdon's Nan would be gleaming with pride and "riding her high horse" over what her moko had achieved. Others spoke of the healing this ceremony had brought to their whānau, bringing members together for the first time.
Tears were shed and laughs were had. Each speaker was followed by a waiata tautoko and there was even a fiery haka. This didn't feel like a court process, it felt like a Māori process. There just happened to be some people up the front wearing robes and others with wigs on too, but they were laughing just as hard as the rest of us.
In the end, it wasn't Justice Whata who told the room that speeches would have to conclude, it was the kaumātua who had opened the whakatau. It wasn't a procedural thing, it was just because the kai for the hākari was ready.
- Liam Rātana, a freelance writer and commentator, is of Ngāti Kurī and Ngāti Wairupe descent.