Growing up in the deep south of the South Island, Jacinta Ruru was away from her father’s North Island iwi and did not know the Māori stories connected to the landscape that surrounded her. When she studied law at the University of Otago, she found Māori thinking largely absent there too.
Aware of these absences, Ruru began research on how national parks could be understood within the context of the Treaty of Waitangi, then did broader research looking at indigenous peoples’ legal interests to own, manage and govern land and water. She supervised a thesis looking at the possibility of legal personhood for water in New Zealand. Today, both the Whanganui River and Te Urewera are recognised as legal entities in their own right.
Now New Zealand’s first Māori Professor of Law, at the University of Otago, Ruru is also the co-director of Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga New Zealand’s Māori Centre of Research Excellence.