Māori lawyer stands up for First Nations rights

by Sol Dolor12 Oct 2016
Whangarei man Kingi Snelgar is using his considerable skills in the law to benefit not only those in New Zealand but in the America as well.
Snelgar, a Māori indigenous rights lawyer who completed his Master of Laws from Harvard University, is currently working with the Sioux Tribe at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation that straddles North and South Dakota in the U.S., a report from the Rotorua Daily Post notes.
Readers of NZ Lawyer may remember Snelgar as the young lawyer who inspired law firm Meredith Connell to increase diversity by offering a tailored internship for Māori and Pacific Island law students or the first non-American to win a bison dung throwing contest at a community festival.
These days, he’s busy being a human rights observer at Standing Rock, making sure indigenous rights are respected in the region as tensions flare over a contested oil pipeline which would run close to the reservation.
Snelgar, who finished his postgraduate degree on a Fulbright Scholarship with his partner Kiri Toki, was previously a judge’s clerk at the Oglala Sioux Tribal Court in Pine Ridge, South Dakota.
The young lawyer told the Rotorua Daily Post that the pipeline threatens the water source and sacred sites of the local indigenous people.
Apart from protecting the water for the next generation and the millions of people that lived downstream along the Missouri River, the move to block the pipeline is “an exercise of sovereignty,” he said.
In a recent interview with Fusion, Snelgar said that he understands the plight of the Sioux Tribe because he himself knows the effects of land confiscations and construction projects.
Snelgar also recently told The Northern Advocate that the Maori could learn from the tribes in the US as they negotiate with the Crown.
“Native American tribes have their own separate lands over which they have sovereignty, meaning several have their own parliaments, court systems, for example,” he said.
“For us in Aotearoa, this might be a model that iwi might wish to explore - basically having more control over their whenua and people,” he continued.
“This is quite a technical area but the main point I think is that tribes in the US have valuable lessons for Maori as we settle with the Crown and decide on our governance structures and nation-building,” Snelgar added.
Snelgar, who specialised in international human rights, criminal justice and indigenous rights for his master’s, encouraged rangatahi to aim high.
“Anything is possible and if I can go to Harvard, anyone can! As Maori we have a unique worldview to share that is truly invaluable,” he told the Rotorua Daily Post.