Double appointment at Waikato a “landmark moment” for New Zealand as a Pacific nation

10 August 2023

Leilani Tuala-Warren and Unaisi Narawa
Tafaoimalo Tologata Professor Leilani Tuala-Warren and Convenor for Pacific Engagement, Senior Lecturer Ms Unaisi Narawa

Two new appointments at the University of Waikato, including New Zealand's first Pacific woman to be appointed a Professor in Law, marks a meaningful step towards greater diversity and representation in academia.

Tafaoimalo Tologata Professor Leilani Tuala-Warren, a former Supreme Court Justice from Samoa, has been appointed as a Professor of Law. Concurrently, Ms Unaisi Narawa, from Fiji, joins the Law faculty as a lecturer. Bringing a wealth of interdisciplinary research into Indigenous identity, Ms Narawa also takes on the additional role of Convenor for Pacific Engagement.

Assistant Vice-Chancellor Pacific, Dr Keakaokawai (Keaka) Varner Hemi, says that these appointments highlight the talent coming from our Pacific communities, and is a landmark moment for New Zealand as a Pacific nation.

Dr Keaka Warner Hemi
Assistant Vice-Chancellor Pacific, Dr Keakaokawai (Keaka) Varner Hemi

"Both of these women are very accomplished and bring a wealth of experience working in the law in Pacific jurisdictions, with Pacific communities on things that matter to Pacific people."

"We are excited to welcome them as role models and experts who will support our commitment to incorporating the knowledge and perspectives of Indigenous peoples."

Professor Tuala-Warren is the first Pacific woman in New Zealand to attain the prestigious law professorial position. She boasts an impressive career spanning 26 years, encompassing roles in practice, academia, policy, and the judiciary. Notably, she served as a Justice of the Supreme Court of Samoa from 2016 to 2023, becoming only the second woman to achieve this distinction.

Tafaoimalo Tologata Professor Leilani Tuala-Warren
Tafaoimalo Tologata Professor Leilani Tuala-Warren

Professor Tuala-Warren also holds a special place at the University of Waikato, having been part of the Law faculty and receiving an esteemed Distinguished Alumni Award in 2022.

Professor Tuala-Warren says that she is looking forward to engaging with law students and getting them excited about working in the field of law.

"I am humbled to be the first female of Pacific descent to receive a law professorship in New Zealand. I hope I can inspire other young women growing up in the Pacific Islands to consider the field of law," she says.

Ms Narawa is an accomplished legal professional with a Bachelor of Law from the University of the South Pacific, where she was admitted to practice as a barrister and solicitor. She also holds a Master of Laws and postgraduate qualifications in legislative drafting and tertiary teaching.

Ms Unaisi Narawa
Convenor for Pacific Engagement and lecturer Ms Unaisi Narawa

She has held positions in Nauru as a senior government lawyer for the Department of Justice and Border Control and, most recently, as Legislative Counsel for the Parliament. Ms Narawa also has over a decade of academic experience and has just submitted her PhD at the University of Queensland in Australia.

Ms Narawa says she chose to work at the University of Waikato due to its commitment to building more engagement with the Pacific and its Pasifika staff and students.

"I wanted to be a part of that commitment to education and learning. I'm looking forward to sharing my knowledge and collaborating to put more focus on Pasifika  legal issues. I see this new role as one where I can learn and grow and use my skills to make an impact both within the University and across the Pacific."

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