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'He Made Us Want To Be Better People': A Tribute to Moana Jackson

28 Apr 2022
One of the late Moana Jackson's peers explains the impact that he had on toi Māori and how his legacy can live on in the creative community.

Earlier this month, one of the most respected figures in te ao Māori, Dr Moana Jackson was laid to rest. His colossal impact on Aotearoa and his championing of te reo Māori has been celebrated and many of the tributes that have flowed have outlined his incredible achievements as an academic and as a lawyer.

But the creative community has lost one of its strongest advocates too. Jackson's contribution to toi Māori simply cannot be understated. The Big Idea asked another respected figure in Glenis Philip-Barbara, Chair of Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival to explain what Moana Jackson meant to Māori creatives.



Moana Jackson epitomised the dream of our tipuna.  He demonstrated complete faith in their wisdom in every thought and deed.  

He understood that for Māori, the antidote for racism is the realisation that our whakapapa makes us the equal of anyone.  

He reminded us that bringing Te Ao Māori fully to life for our mokopuna is our work to do.  

He inspired many tauiwi to reject the fundamental idea underpinning racism, that to be white makes you superior to all other humans.  Moana made us want to be better people.

For creatives, especially Māori creatives, the arts have offered valuable space to explore the pain of racism and colonisation and the promise of tino rangatiratanga.   

For many in our generation, Moana’s clarity of analysis, his ability to evidence the decisions and actions taken by colonising nations and help us understand their devastating impact on indigenous peoples created a fire in our belly.  These fires have generated creative brilliance across all art forms.  

Toi Tū, Toi Ora, the largest exhibition of indigenous artwork ever seen in this country, is evidence of the sheer volume of indigenous creative brilliance in Aotearoa.   In bringing Toi Tū, Toi Ora to life, curator Nigel Borell challenged the arts community to honour the leadership of Māori and learn to share power.  

He reminded us that the struggle is real, even as the logic of Māori leadership of kaupapa Māori is as plain as day.

Moana Jackson.

In a keynote speech given in 2019 to a gathering of the nation’s creative community, Moana offered snippets of poetry by Allen Curnow, Hone Tuwhare and Witi Ihimaera in his speech called ‘Three Poets and a Treaty’.  

Not one person moved or made a single sound as he delivered that speech.  Many were having a wee tangi as concluded with Witi’s words.

“If this land – if New Zealand was still Aotearoa, just imagine.  The Treaty would have been honoured in 1840.  Being kaitiaki, the Huia would still fill the air with amazing song.  Pods of Tohorā would thrill the blood as they made soundings all along our coasts.  The tales the children would learn would be of whale riders moving mountains and mythical taniwha. It’s our watch now.  Time to make dreams come true.  Today is a good day to begin.”

Moana knew and understood the transformational power of the creative.  

I remember him proudly telling the story of his niece Hinewehi Mohi and the stand she made by singing the National Anthem in te reo Māori at the Rugby World Cup in 1999.  Had she made a speech or delivered a lecture, she may not have landed the reo so successfully in the ears of that huge worldwide rugby audience.

Her creative act of courage in service of kaupapa created space for important conversations about the importance of te reo in our lives.  Twenty-three years later, Aotearoa is a nation in love with te reo Māori - something many could not have imagined.

Moana inspired so many with his vision for an Aotearoa where it was not only safe to be Māori, but where our mokopuna are able to thrive in the lands of their ancestors.  In this future Aotearoa, the values of manaakitanga and kaitiakitanga underpin every system in this country.  In this Aotearoa, sharing knowledge and power as partners in Te Tiriti o Waitangi ensures that all of us who call this place home benefit from that partnership.  

Moana knew that creative community has the unique ability to take us to these seemingly faraway places in the future and explore them.  Creatives know that authentic leadership of all things Māori requires whakapapa.  

Māori creative leadership is ready.  All that is required is that we trust in the potency of their magic.   


Glenis Philip-Barbara (Ngāti Porou/Ngāti Uepōhatu)

Nan, Mum, Artist & Chair, Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival