Māori lawyer Maia Wikaira sworn into Native American tribal justice system

By Leah Te Whata

New Zealand environmental attorney Maia Wikaira was recently sworn into the Yurok Bar in Klamath, California. The legal fellow will do legal research and provide assistance to the attorneys at The Yurok Tribe Office of Tribal Attorney.

The Yurok Tribe have welcomed Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Ngāpuhi and Te Rarawa descendent Maia Wikaira into their tribal justice system.

Maia Wikaira says, "One of the differences between New Zealand and Yurok and other Native American tribes is that they have their own governance system so they have their own laws."

Wikaira worked on the Whanganui River Claims Settlement Bill and says that the Yurok Tribe's priorities surrounding water rights were the initial reason she wanted to work with them.

"Some of the issues surrounding water rights are that the water is being extracted from their river for irrigation purposes as well as power so there isn't enough water to sustain the salmon stocks, the Yurok's main food source is salmon."

Wikaira has also offered assistance on other important issues to the tribe including fishing rights, gaming issues and child welfare.

"While on the reservation, I saw a type of woven baby bassinette, so there are spiritual links between Māori and Yurok but there are also many fundamental similarities as well."

Wikaira will work with the Yurok Tribe Office of Tribal Attorney as a legal fellow through March next year.