Associate Professor Nin Tomas

28 February 2014

Associate Professor Nin Tomas (Te Rarewa, Ngāpuhi) died in the early morning of Monday, 17 February. “Nin will be greatly missed by all the staff in the Law School and by the students she has taught, inspired and mentored” says Dean Andrew Stockley.

“Nin was always enthusiastic and passionate about her teaching and her research. She was committed to making a difference in the law, for Māori, and in the lives of her students. Nin had a big heart. She was direct, straight forward and said what she thought. She was unafraid to speak truth to power and to speak up for those who needed it. Her courage and tenacity have been no less evident as she fought against her final illness”.

Nin was brought onto Waipapa Marae at the University on Tuesday. Faculty members and students from Te Rākau Ture (the Māori Law Students Association) were present to welcome her. Professor Paul Rishworth (Dean from 2006 to 2010) spoke on behalf of the faculty.

Nin returned to Te Rarawa Marae, Pukepoto on Wednesday and was buried at Rangihaukaha on Thursday, 20 February. Dean Andrew Stockley spoke on behalf of the faculty, Tumuaki Kyhlee Quince was also present at the funeral and burial with other current and former faculty members.

Nin joined the Faculty in 1991, where her academic contributions have been broad-based, covering both Māori/Indigenous and non-Māori ideas of law.

Nin made an enormous contribution in terms of the establishment and oversight of the Māori student academic programme, which she led for many years. The programme was introduced to increase the number of Māori successfully completing law at Auckland, and is built around maintaining whanaungatanga (kinship obligations) in academic study. It has an “honours” component, in which students who do well in prior years have the honour of contributing to the education of those who follow in successive years - by way of tutoring, mentoring and academic support.

Nin completed her PhD in 2006, and graduated alongside her son Inia who had completed his medical studies. Her thesis was entitled Key concepts of Tikanga Māori (Māori Custom Law) and their use as regulators of human relationships to natural resources in Tai Tokerau, past and present. This was ground-breaking research which demonstrated that a jural system of land tenure, based on broad fundamental principles, existed in the Tai Tokerau (Central Northland) in the period before colonisation - and continues to exist.

As part of her research, Nin examined previously unexamined and untranslated early Māori written texts recorded during the Papatupu hearings held in Northland in the early 20th century, the records of early colonial writers on tikanga Māori, and early Native Land Court records. She also reviewed contemporary materials, such as evidence in the Ngawha Geothermal Claim to the Waitangi Tribunal in 1992, and in the Ngawha Prison hearings before the Environment Court. A comparison of these written sources separated by nearly a century provides a basis upon which to consider how principles of tikanga have changed or developed in the intervening period.

Nin lectured in Māori Land Law, Contemporary Tiriti Issues, Public Law, Legal System and Legal Method. From 2006 onwards Nin taught the New Zealand component of Comparative Indigenous People and the Law, a course which brought together students from the universities of Auckland and Waikato, from Monash and Queensland in Australia, Ottawa and Saskatchewan in Canada, and Oklahoma in the United States. Taught by video-conference, each contributing country provided expert teaching for global sharing. Described by students as “revolutionary” the course gave students a “virtual OE” in which they gained valuable overseas experience without leaving home.

In 2008 Nin was awarded a $175,000 Research Grant by Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga, to investigate “Nga Tikanga Mate”. Prompted by a series of cases in which Māori have repatriated family members for burial in their home territories (against the wishes of their spouses and/or children), the research is interdisciplinary and comparative. It brings together law, history and anthropological approaches to answer the question: Who “rightfully” should decide where a Māori person is buried? The international component looks at African constitutions under which customary law is the law of the land and compares this with the Aotearoa/New Zealand approach.

Nin’s unique, singular and passionate contribution to Law School life will be greatly missed, as will be her rare sense of humour and presence.