Northland kuia Dame Whina Cooper's legacy will become part of New Zealand's school history curriculum and will never be forgotten, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has vowed.
The promise came during the unveiling of a statue to one of the country's most revered leaders, dubbed the Mother of the Nation, at Panguru.
Up to 1000 people travelled to the remote North Hokianga settlement to take part in yesterday's ceremony.
The sculpture, by Jimi Hills of Ruatoria, is based on the famous photograph by Michael Tubberty showing Dame Whina, who was 80 at the time, holding the hand of her three-year-old granddaughter as the pair left Te Hapua at the start of the 1100km Land March in 1975.
The statue, at the entrance to Waipuna Marae, was unveiled by Dame Whina's son Joe Cooper and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Also taking part were Irenee Cooper, the granddaughter in the photo and now the statue, and Dame Whina's daughter Hine Puru.
Irenee Cooper said her memories of the march were those of a three-year-old such as women carrying babies in kete and ''ice cream mountains'' — she had never seen snow before — but also a sense of warmth and connectedness.
The statue evoked those memories and was a chance for whanau to celebrate Dame Whina's legacy at a ''momentous time of year''.
''For me, my grandmother's legacy is that she was a strong Māori wahine, she gave us the pathway to stand in those footsteps and follow. But many things my grandmother has done mean a lot to a lot of people,'' she said.
In her speech the Prime Minister promised Dame Whina would be included in the new school history curriculum.
Looking towards her resting place on a nearby hill, Ardern said: ''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 Aotearoa's history.''
Ardern was accompanied by fiancé Clarke Gayford and daughter Neve, who turns 2 in June.
Also present was the biggest delegation of politicians Panguru, population 471, has seen since Dame Whina's tangi in 1994.
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.''
Davis described her as ''a fierce kuia who pursued the interests of her people and had the ears of politicians''.
Te Rarawa chairman Haami Piripi said a powerful and prophetic speech at the opening of the 1990 Commonwealth Games cemented Dame Whina's reputation as Te Whaea o Te Motu or the Mother of the Nation.
Her father Heremia Te Wake was a paramount chief but she became a leader in her own right.
She founded the Māori Women's Welfare League, was a good friend of Prime Minister Peter Fraser, helped shape legislation relating to Māori, and played an important part in community development in Auckland.
''But she really hit her straps as a leader with the Land March. She gained the heart of the nation, not just Māori but Pākehā as well.
''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. She was a real icon.''
Other MPs at Panguru included Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones, Māori Development Minister Nanaia Mahuta, Tāmaki Makaurau MP Peeni Henare, and others.
The annual hīkoi from Cape Reinga to Waitangi took a detour to Panguru to join the ceremony, as did members of the Ihumatao occupation including leader Pania Newton.
One of the stars at yesterday's ceremony was not a person but a flagpole carved by Dame Whina's son-in-law Moka Puru and carried on the 1975 march. Tradition dictates the pole must not touch the ground until all Māori land is returned.
It was carried yesterday by Moka's son, George Puru of Rawhiti, who said it was ''a huge honour''.
In 1991 Dame Whina was appointed to the Order of New Zealand, the nation's highest honour. She died in 1994, aged 98.