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Dame Temuranga Batley-Jackson - the country's newest Dame - reckons there will be a few people wondering who she is.

And some will be surprised that she was once a humble cleaning lady.

Better known as June Jackson, the 70-year-old today receives one of the highest awards in the Queen's Birthday honours.

She says she is honouring her parents Huinga and Barney by reclaiming her given name, Temuranga. June stuck 65 years ago when teachers couldn't pronounce her name.

A former Queen's Service Medal recipient, Dame Temuranga has been a staunch advocate of urban Maori, taking legal action against the Crown to negotiate a fairer share from Sealord to be directed at that group - which grew to $700 million before disbursement to iwi.

An urban Maori board received only $20 million from that fight, a result Dame Temuranga still counts as a loss.

"It's no secret the tribes are the tribes and they think they're entitled to everything. So the tribaltanga [iwi] purists and me will always have some differences but amicable ones."

She is the longest serving member of the Parole Board. She joined in 1986 and says the job profoundly changed her life.

"I had a very positive upbringing and good family and I discovered this new world which I was totally foreign to. The hardship, terrible upbringings of those who had committed some fairly horrendous offences."

That work galvanised her into developing a highly regarded marae-based reintegration programme for newly released prisoners. Its success was that it was never soft, she said.

"I've always been very straightforward and direct. It was my belief that part of my role was to make them aware of the pain they had caused the victim and that some of those families never get over it."

Dame Temuranga's advocacy for urban Maori includes programmes which opened up access to small business loans and social services.

She started her working life as a cleaner in Wellington, with shifts starting at 2am.

"I tell you it's good for the soul when you start thinking you're a bit of all right. I need to remind myself 'no, you did clean and do all these other things in another life time, June'."

She married Bob Jackson, a unionist, wharfie and Ngati Porou tikanga (cultural) expert. They had three children, including broadcaster Willie Jackson.

The pair were an unstoppable political duo, setting up urban marae Nga Whare Waatea in Mangere, Mr Jackson said.

"Mum's always had that fire."