Whina Cooper is our New Zealander of the Year for leading a h' />

Dame Whina Cooper is our New Zealander of the Year for leading a hikoi from the Far North to Parliament House to demand recognition of Maori land rights.

Dame Whina was 80, and had already given a lifetime of service to her people, when she set out to walk more than 1000km to Wellington.

But the march was her finest achievement, arguably doing more to make Pakeha aware of how deeply Maori felt about the land than any of the petitions and protests of preceding generations.

When Dame Whina died in 1994, the Herald put the march and her life's work in context.

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Haere ra e te kuia rongonui o te motu. Haere ki Hawaiiki Nui, ki Hawaiiki Roa, ki Hawaiiki Pamamao. E noho mokemoke ana matou i raro i te kapua pouri. Haere, e kui, haere, haere, haere.*

The image, [captured by Herald photographer Michael Tubberty], has become one of the great New Zealand icons - the dusty, shingled road from Te Hapua; the scrub-covered hillside; and the wistful, expectant child hand in hand with the bent figure that, even from the rear, spells fortitude and indomitability. This 80-year-old kuia may falter in her stride as she walks the many miles to Parliament; but she will never falter in her determination. Never.

When Dame Whina Cooper set out with her 3-year-old granddaughter on that long march in 1975 she had already exceeded the efforts of most normal lifetimes.

From the humblest of birthplaces in the tiny rural settlement of Panguru in the Far North, daughter of a chief of the Ngapuhi, she had become wife and mother, schoolteacher, postmistress, shopkeeper and farmer, president of the North Hokianga Rugby Union, and of Federated Farmers; and a founder and first president of the Maori Women's Welfare League.

Formed in 1951, the league's main concern was - indeed, still is - the home and the family, with particular emphasis on health.

It has been no tea-and-biscuits talkfest but a powerful pressure group, ready to tread on anyone's toes for the good of its people.

Dame Whina's work brought her deserved honours, not least a CBE from the Queen in 1974. Typically, she saw it as much as a tribute to her people as to her own efforts.

"I am the wearer," she said, "to show that if some can get to these heights, we all can ... I came out of the teatree, out of a nikau hut, out of the country."

She also saw it as time to hand over the baton to others.

"I can do no work now ... only the mouth can talk;" but how wrong she was. Just over a year later, she embarked on her most memorable campaign, against the loss of Maori land.

"They talk about the Maori language as part of our heritage," she said before embarking on the famous land march. "But if our language is to survive and the people to survive, our land must survive also."

Whatever else it may have done, the march of Te Roopu o te Matakite made all New Zealanders aware of the land issue. She leaves a heritage of pride, personality and persistence in the pursuit of justice.

*Farewell you grand old lady whose feats are known throughout this land. Travel well on your journey to the place of your ancestors - to Hawaiiki the huge, Hawaiiki the long, Hawaiiki the far distant. We are bereft by you passing which has left us cloaked in a cloud of sadness. Farewell, grand lady, farewell.
Further reading:
Biography of Whina Cooper, Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand
'Whina Cooper leads land march to Parliament', New Zealand History Online
Further viewing:
Te Matakite O Aotearoa - The Maori Land March, television documentary, 1975, NZ On Screen
Koha - Whina Cooper (part one). Television, 1983 (Documentary, M?ori), NZ On Screen
Koha - Whina Cooper (part two). Television, 1983 (Documentary, M?ori), NZ On Screen