When Kahu was at primary school, her teacher asked her to write about what she wanted to be when she grew up. Without thinking twice, Kahu wrote down ‘lawyer’.
Kahu says her interest in practicing law was inspired by an aunt, who works as a family lawyer in Hamilton. “I saw her helping children and always being there for them—I wanted to be able to help people too.”
She says the decision to come to Victoria University of Wellington to study law was also an easy one.
“From visiting Wellington as a kid I knew I loved the city. I also knew that Wellington’s law school was the best in the country and is located right at New Zealand’s heart of decision-making.”
Alongside her Law degree, Kahu is also studying towards a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in Māori Studies and Māori Resource Management.
“It’s been fantastic to study things like the Treaty of Waitangi—it applies to so many aspects of New Zealand’s constitution and people’s lives, generally,” she says. “There’s so much more to learn about it too, which is really exciting.”
While initially nervous about leaving her whānau and friends behind in Waikato, Kahu quickly settled into life in the capital city. She spent her first year at Te Puni hall of residence where she made what she says will be lifelong friends.
She also attended Māori students’ orientation activities at the University's Te Herenga Waka Marae. “Te Herenga Waka is amazing—there is a poupou (carved wall panel) for each iwi, which allows everyone to hitch their waka (canoe) there – regardless of where they come from. It was great to meet other Māori students in the same situation as me and make a real connection with them, which continues to this day,” she says. “They have become my whānau on campus, and the marae is my home away from home.”
“The diverse culture at Victoria University of Wellington makes me feel very comfortable being a Māori student here—the support I’ve received has made the transition from home and school to a new city and a different way of learning relatively easy.”
Kahu has made the most of the many student networks available at Victoria University of Wellington, including Te Pūtahi Atawhai, a support service for Māori and Pasifika students. “They host mentoring sessions, tutorials and study wānanga to assist you through your journey at university, which help you so much.”
Kahu is currently co-president of Ngā Rangahautira (Māori Law Students’ Association), and has also been heavily involved with Ngāi Tauira (the Māori students’ association).
Growing up, Kahu was surrounded by her Māori heritage, something she now says she took for granted.
“My first language was te reo Māori—that’s all we spoke at home and at kura kaupapa (Māori-language immersion school), so I was fully immersed in both Māori language and culture,” she says. “But after starting at university I quickly understood not every Māori student was as lucky as I was to grow up identifying so strongly with Māori culture and I realised I could turn that into an opportunity.”
“I learned that I had something to offer—I could share my knowledge with those students who wanted to know a bit more te reo or learn more about tikanga Māori, and help them with their journey to embrace their heritage. For example, I now give back in a way that I have always wanted by using my intiative and hosting waiata practice and tutoring te reo Māori.”
Kahu has firm plans for the future, and would like to continue sharing her knowledge—this time, taking what she’s learned at university back to her iwi (Te Arawa and Waikato).
“I would ideally love to take the skills and knowledge I’ve learned at university back to my home, to my community, to my marae, so that I can help my whānau in a meaningful way.”