Dame Te Atairangikaahu
Māori Queen
1931 - 2006

The first Māori Queen and champion of Māori language and culture

Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu was the first female to head the Kīngitanga. The first Māori Queen, she was a direct descendant of the first King, Pōtatau Te Wherowhero.

She was the sixth monarch of the King Movement, succeeding her father, King Korokī, and succeeded by her son, King Tūheitia. Her reign of 40 years, from 1966, is the longest yet for the movement established in 1858 as an expression of pan-tribal chiefly authority.

Born as Piki Mahuta, she was Piki Paki following her marriage to Whatumoana Paki, and as queen came to be known as Dame Te Ata.

Widely loved, Te Atairangikaahu was credited both with maintaining unity among her Waikato-Tainui people and overseeing an important separation between cultural and financial affairs.

Her death in 2006 prompted an outpouring of respect among MPs which ran to 22 pages of speeches in parliamentary archives.

Greens co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons noted Te Atairangikaahu - with Te Puea Hērangi, Whina Cooper and Eva Rickard - was part of a new generation of Māori women leaders after World War II.

"With them and others, Dame Te Ata led Māori out of a culture of colonisation and into an era of cultural and economic assertiveness."

Te Atairangikaahu's pursuit of compensation for the Crown's confiscation of more than 400,000ha of iwi land in retribution for the Waikato War of 1863-64 was one of the greatest achievements of her rule. She was influential in helping her whangai brother, the late Sir Robert Mahuta, gain leadership to negotiate the tribal confederation's Treaty of Waitangi settlement.

The resulting $170 million deal of 1995 was the first major Treaty settlement with the Crown in modern times.

As well as her domestic leadership role, Te Atairangikaahu was sought out as an international figure, meeting such dignitaries as US President Bill Clinton and South Africa's President Nelson Mandela.

A strong supporter of Māori cultural activities and the revival of te reo Māori, she was, in 1970, the first Māori to be made a dame. In 1987 Te Atairangikaahu was among the first to be made a member of the Order of New Zealand, the country's top honour.