By Rosemary Rangitauira 28/02/2022

Armed with a smile and an unstoppable, charismatic can-do attitude, Dr Huhana Hickey, is driven to transform Aotearoa and ensure issues facing socially oppressed people are seen.

Huhana, who’s also known as Dr Hu, has a PhD in Law and Tikanga Māori, and is a human rights lawyer who lobbies for communities including Māori and disabled people. She is of Ngāti Tahinga, Tainui, Ngāi Tai, Whakatōhea, Navajo, Aboriginal, Sami descendant.

Huhana doesn’t allow her pain from multiple sclerosis to hold her back in completing projects, initiatives and research such as:

Keep an eye out for Huhana’s next move as she plans to hold the Government accountable following its announcement last year to establish a Ministry for Disabled People.

She also has a few projects up her sleeve over the next two years.

“One of the pieces of research I’m involved in is to interview some of our whānau hauā (disabled community), who contracted Covid including Māori who are fully vaxed to learn from their experiences. We want to know what their life has been like since, gauging the after-effects, whether they have long Covid as well as the support they received.”

A date to publish the research is yet to be confirmed.

Huhana has an extensive track record including being the first Māori woman and disabled person to obtain a PhD in law from Waikato University. She was also the inaugural solicitor at the country’s first disability community law centre in Auckland, and in 2015 was awarded a New Zealand Order of Merit for services to Māori and whānau hauā.

Undertaking her PhD helped inspire the journey she’s on.

“I was going to explore a legal argument around Māori and disability and how to include whānau hauā in the Human Rights Act. But at that time, I discovered there was only one piece of research around Māori disability which suggested that all Māori are disabled because of colonisation. As a result of that discovery, I changed my thesis to a multidisciplinary one that looked at the legal social-cultural needs of Māori with disabilities. It opened my world in a big way,” she says.

Dr Hu says on her PhD journey several kaumātua including kuia encouraged her to continue her research.

“They would beg me not to give up and encouraged me to fight and fight for Māori disabled people.”

Huhana, who’s also a cartoonist, is in the throws of illustrating a children’s book this year before she pens the words to her book next year.

It’s easy to feel welcome in Huhana’s company via Zoom as the yarn flows as she reaches down to praise her well-trained black and brown canine, Barney, while she stares up at the screen and tells us about another project she’s working on with whānau hauā.

“I got this idea and put it out to our community,” she nods.

“Now we’ve set up a Disabled Artists Aotearoa. We’re going to produce t-shirts, caps, tote bags. I’m going to get all our artists to do some drawings and we’ll look at putting them up on an online page and if people like them, we can help disabled people earn money because they rarely get employed. We have a young woman with Down Syndrome whose family has set up a printing initiative. So we’re going to use their service.”

She says if there is enough interest, they already have the means to look at creating an exhibition.

Huhana says it encourages people living with a disability to show they exist, their capability, and empowers their value and worth.

If Dr Hu’s record is anything to go by – we look forward to seeing this kaupapa (project) advance.

Bonus read

As a leading disability, Māori and human rights advocate and academic, Dr Huhana Hickey held several expert and governance roles including as a representative for the International Disability Association Steering Group caucus during the development of the UN Convention for the rights of People living with disabilities and a housing expert at the NZ Human Rights Commission.

She has helped advance numerous issues including advocating for:

Dr Hu also shares her story of going under the needle to receive her moko kauae and was inducted into the Attitude Hall of Fame in 2021 (See winner list at the bottom of the page).

*Photo supplied