Bringing it home

An indigenous scholar from Canada says the work she is doing at Victoria University of Wellington will help her benefit indigenous communities in her home country.

Hannah Martin

Hannah Martin, who is of Mi’kmaq descent, is spending the Canadian summer at the Faculty of Law, where she is completing an internship with the Māori Law Review. She is a student at McMaster University, Ontario.

She says the ultimate goal of her studies is to use her knowledge to help Canada’s indigenous communities—and the research she is carrying out here will help her achieve her aim.

“Working at the Māori Law Review has given me a chance to examine the different cases that are going through the Waitangi Tribunal, and study the processes through which Māori communities have been able to reclaim their rights.

“My work here is helping me understand how these processes work around the world, and how we can change our own processes in Canada.

“There’s a lot to learn here. A lot of indigenous people in Canada look up to Kiwi reconciliation, and the resilience and strength Māori people have displayed.”

Hannah’s visit to New Zealand was made possible by a Loran Scholarship, a prestigious award given to 30 graduating Canadian students each year. The undergraduate scholarship, which is worth CA$100,000, includes funding for summer internships around the world.

The aim of the scholarship is to help recipients become part of the next generation of leaders—and for Hannah, her focus was always going to be social justice.

The fight for indigenous rights became her primary motivator after she delved deeper into her own community’s history and traditions, she says.

“I grew up off reservations, outside of the community to which I belong. I didn’t have a lot of direct exposure to my culture or traditions. I definitely still had ways to connect, but I never had a full immersion of my culture or language.

“I think that lack of exposure built up inside me, so when I reached my late teen years I had this sudden passion to dive deeper into my roots, and find out more about who I am and where I come from.”

Hannah, who is also working on a research project on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, says her work at the Māori Law Review is providing her with a holistic experience.

“My supervisors are providing a lot of opportunities to meet people who are quite influential, and to have experiences that are going to help me achieve my goals. It’s not just about the work itself—they really want to provide me with opportunities to network and meet people working in indigenous law here.

“During my first two weeks in New Zealand, I spent time on marae with different iwi and had a lot of good discussions about sovereignty and nationhood. They’ve made so much progress, but there’s still a lot to be done.”

Hannah, who will complete her Honours degree in Indigenous Studies at McMaster next year, says her ultimate goal is to take everything she’s learnt throughout her studies back to her community.

“My current goal would be to do work with the Canadian Aboriginal law that’s going to benefit my tribe. I definitely want to bring it back home and use the skills I’ve collected to help my people.

“My biggest interest right now is treaty settlements and land claims, and finding out how our people can become more self-determining. I’d love to see a future where all indigenous groups in Canada can govern themselves according to traditional forms of law, and where they’re classified as their own sovereign nations.

“And, of course, learning my language will be very important. I think being a professional who can also speak in our native tongue is something that’s very important for our people, in terms of representation.”

Hannah credits her family with giving her the foundation to pursue her goals.

“They’re the ones who taught me the importance of education, and that’s where I became passionate about social justice and the rights of my people. They taught me a lot growing up about the kind of person I want to be.”

Hannah is at the Law School until August.