One of New Zealand's most revered leaders, and one of the country's most iconic photographs, have been immortalised in bronze in her home town of Panguru.

The tiny North Hokianga community, population 471, welcomed several times that number of visitors, including a host of politicians, and Dame Whina Cooper's granddaughter, Irenee Cooper, who was 3 years old when she set off from Te Hapua in 1975 to begin the 1100km Land March, clutching her grandmother's hand.

The statue, of Dame Whina and Irenee on that historic day, stands at the entrance to Waipuna Marae, where it was unveiled by Dame Whina's son, Joe Cooper, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Ms Ardern promised that Dame Whina would be part of the new school history curriculum.

Advertisement

"I make this commitment to you ... to teach your legacy to the generations that follow. You will be a part of our history in schools, because you are so central to Āotearoa's history," she said.

Māori-Crown Relations Minister Kelvin Davis said his office had driven the project, with the blessing of the Cooper whānau, as a way of celebrating Aotearoa's Māori heroes.

"It's an apt way to commemorate Dame Whina. It's 45 years since the Land March, and it's a wonderful occasion, not just for North Hokianga but all of New Zealand," he said.

Te Rarawa chairman Haami Piripi said Dame Whina had helped shape legislation relating to Māori, and played an important part in community development in Auckland, but it was in the land march that she "really hit her straps," winning the heart of the nation, Māori and Pākehā.

"She was responsible for the phrase 'Not one more acre.' If there was a single slogan that slowed down the loss of Māori land, it was that one. It became a catch-cry for all of us.

"To galvanise the Māori nation into a march that large and that significant was really an awesome legacy," Mr Piripi said.

A flagpole carved by Dame Whina's son-in-law, Moka Puru, and carried on the 1975 march, which tradition dictates must not touch the ground until all Māori land is returned, was carried by Moka's son, George Puru.

Dame Whina died in 1994, aged 98.

Advertisement