Sir Graham Latimer, who died yesterday, was remembered for helping raise status of the Treaty of Waitangi.

Sir Graham Latimer, the Maori leader who helped make the Treaty of Waitangi a cornerstone of modern New Zealand society, has been hailed as a great advocate of the rights and interests of his people.

The former president of the New Zealand Maori Council and senior figure in the National Party died yesterday aged 90. He had been ill with Parkinson's disease for a decade.

Former Labour List MP and Cabinet Minister Shane Jones said Sir Graham's death left a huge hole in Maoridom.

"The Northland kauri tree has fallen. Sir Graham led the way for me and many other Maori. Many are the tribes and families who have benefited from Sir Graham's leadership and dedication to the development of Maoridom and the wider country," Mr Jones said.


"From serving in World War II through his time in Parliament and leadership of the Waitangi Tribunal he has fulfilled all the leadership roles his elders called on him to do and he did them all extremely well."

Whether it be Maori broadcasting, Maori fisheries, Maori land claims or Maori TV, Sir Graham had had a huge influence on them all, he said.

"And a craftier politician you have never encountered, and he remained 'til the end a staunch leader of Maoridom and an arch pragmatist," Mr Jones said.

He famously retrieved tupuna Maori from an English auction house in 1988, and stopped the public sale of human remains.

Sir Graham, whose wife Lady Emily Latimer died last year, was born on the Aupouri Peninsula on February 7, 1926, the third son of Lilian and Graham Latimer.

He was 14 when he went to Waitangi with his parents for the Treaty centenary in 1940. His main recollection of the day was getting "whacked around the legs" by his father and told to behave.

Sir Graham Latimer had been suffering from Parkinson's disease. Photo / File
Sir Graham Latimer had been suffering from Parkinson's disease. Photo / File

In Auckland after the war and later when he worked on the railways at Kaiwaka, Sir Graham was schooled by Ngati Whatua elders and, following his appointment to the New Zealand Maori Council in 1964, they told him to promote the Treaty, which they feared could be removed by legislation.

The elders had told Sir Graham to work with the Anglican Church and the National Party, but it was the Labour MP for Northern Maori, Matiu Rata, who became his political ally.


The four Maori MPs had been pressing for greater recognition of the Treaty, but their sway in government was limited.

It was the Minister of Maori Affairs who wielded the real power in Maori matters in Parliament.

When Mr Rata got the ministerial portfolio in 1972 he steered through some significant measures, including the creation of the Waitangi Tribunal in 1975.

Prime Minister John Key said Sir Graham was a great advocate of Maori rights and Maori interests.

"[He was] someone that the National Party knew well and we were very fond of.

"I had the opportunity to meet him on numerous occasions in the time that I was both Leader of the Opposition and Prime Minister, and I think his family will be very proud of what he's achieved in his life."


Mr Key said Sir Graham's greatest contribution was his work for the Maori Council, especially in the Far North. "He worked hard to try and see progress for his people. We know there are still big issues there but he was very strong for [Maori] in that area."

The Northland kauri tree has fallen. Sir Graham led the way for me and many other Maori.

Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell said Sir Graham's death was a huge loss.

"I remember as a young university student, he came to the university to talk about leadership and Maori leadership. He was one of those people like Ranginui Walker, who really shook the tree to try and shake the consciousness of young Maori people at the time.

"And of course his legacy, moving into the New Zealand Maori Council is pretty significant, bearing in mind that so much that we have now through things like the language development and so on, have come out of the actions taken by the New Zealand Maori Council."

Labour MP Peeni Henare said Sir Graham was dedicated to the people and worked hard.

"He wasn't always popular, but he certainly worked hard and achieved what he believed in. And I just say, farewell and I hope he goes well to Lady Emily who is waiting for him."


Sir Graham Latimer

• Born 1926 at Waiharara in the Far North, into a family of six children. His father was of Ngati Kahu, and his mother was Pakeha.

• President of Maori Council for over 40 years.

• Worked on the railways, then took up dairy farming. With his wife Emily, the couple had five children.