Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Kanak and Samoan Harvard law graduate proud to carry his indigenous heritage

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air
Kanak and Samoan Harvard law graduate Joe Xulué.
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Gladys Hartson | Senior Journalist

While it is still taking time for it all to sink in, lawyer Joe Xulué says he is truly blessed in describing his graduation in May from one of the most prestigious universities in the United States.

Adding, it was the singular most proud moment in his life having completed a Master of Laws degree in criminal justice reform and indigenous peoples’ rights at Harvard University.

Joe (top right) speaks with Tagata Pasifika host John Pulu (bottom left) via zoom

Speaking with Tagata Pasifika reporter John Pulu, Joe – who is back in New Zealand – shared how much it meant to represent his Kanak people of New Caledonia.

“To do it as a representative of indigenous Kanak people, the struggles that we’ve faced particularly for independence, really just felt like the cherry on top. I’ve never felt prouder.”

Joe, who hails from Siloam in New Caledonia and Lufi lufi, Fagamalo in Samoa, graduated from Auckland University with a Bachelor of Commerce and Law in 2016. He then went on to receive a Fulbright Scholarship to further his studies in law.

Joe has become the first Kanak to graduate from Harvard Law, something that he does not take for granted.

“I think when you are in that position you try your best to embody all those values and you try to remember all of the teachings you get from your family.

“The privilege is always mine, I’m the lucky one. I’m just the person who happens to be in the right place, at the right time with the right support and the right structure around me.”

Joe’s mother – Tofilau Bernadette Pereira. Photo: Pacifica

Joe’s mother Tofilau Bernadette Pereira travelled to the states to witness her son’s momentous achievement.

“I was overwhelmed with great joy, gratefulness and profound pride… It was an emotional special moment for my son, myself, my husband, our entire aiga from Samoa, NZ, Kanak, our ekalesia, our villages and nations in the Pacific region.”

Specialising in criminal law, Joe says it’s an area he is passionate about and one where he has seen first hand and the impact it has on Māori and Pasifika people.

“I wanted to go to Harvard because I wanted to learn about ways that we can imbue our cultural values, our indigenous practices into the structures that we have now.

“In an ideal world we would be able to practise our cultures in the most authentic way possible, without having to do them within the sort of colonial structures. But until we get to that point until we reach a point where that’s a reality, I think it’s important to work within the system that we have and to help as many people as we can now, because that’s what’s urgent,” says Joe.

Joe with wife Yasmin.

Now that he’s completed his work at Harvard, he plans to continue to work to help make a difference for his community.

“I would like to work in areas like prosecutions or criminal work in a way that provides more equitable outcomes for Māori and Pasifika people. That’s always on my mind, that’s the reason why I went there and that’s what I want to do now that I’m back home, that’s the plan.”

And Joe has this advice for all Pasifika who are chasing their dreams. He says while some might be daunted by the prospect of the chance to study at a place like Harvard, he says anything is possible.

“I can tell you and I know a lot of Pasifika people who go to institutions like Harvard, they need us more than we need them. And that’s because we have the passion, we have the knowledge and we are the ones that can help contribute to our communities.”



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