Dame Whina Cooper
Whina Cooper, of Te Rarawa, was born in northern Hokianga in 1895. She took part in local affairs and by the 1930s had become a leader of the northern Hokianga people. In 1932 she played an active role, with Apirana Ngata, in setting up Maori land development schemes in the region. Eleven schemes (comprising 98,000 acres, or 40,000 hectares) were set up in the Hokianga district, and Whina supervised several. The schemes made rapid progress, although several later proved uneconomic.
When her second husband (Bill Cooper) died in 1949 Whina moved to Auckland. Here she found a new role as a pan-tribal Maori leader. She was foundation president of the Maori Women's Welfare League, and was active in creating regional branches. By the mid-1950s the League had over 300 branches and 4,000 members. It greatly improved improving living conditions for Maori who had recently moved to the cities and faced discrimination in housing and employment. Whina was appointed an MBE in 1953.
Whina Cooper is perhaps best known for leading the famous 1975 land march from Te Hapua (in the far north) to Parliament in Wellington. The march was organised by Maori groups opposed to the further loss of their land. It marked a new era of protest and reform.
For most New Zealanders who witnessed the march the most inspiring image was the seemingly frail but passionately articulate 80-year-old woman who led it. About 5,000 marchers arrived at Parliament on October 13, 1975, where Whina presented a petition signed by 60,000 people to the Prime Minister, Bill Rowling.
Whina Cooper continued in public life, opening the Auckland Commonwealth Games in 1990. She told an international audience to remember 'that the Treaty was signed so that we could all live as one nation in Aotearoa'.
Whina Cooper died at Hokianga in 1994, aged 98. More than a million people watched the live television broadcast of her tangihanga (funeral).