Whina Cooper

By: Mick Yates

When the mudflats at Whakarapa were leased and the Maori were excluded from performing their traditional tasks, Whina organised her first land rights protest. She was 18 years of age. Her actions resulted in charges of trespass, however the cause was then taken up by a Northern Maori MP who eventually succeeded in getting the lease withdrawn.

Whina went on to play an important role in several Maori rights movements. She founded the Maori Women's Welfare League, initiated the development of the Te Unga Waka Community centre in Auckland, inspired land development schemes in North Auckland, and, at the age of 80, led the Maori Land March to the Houses of Parliament.

A Prominent Maori leader for over 60 years, Whina faced many challenges and hardships. She liked to lead from the front and was never really comfortable when the leadership style of the Maori world shifted and came to rely heavily on group decision-making, painstaking research and strict processes. This however could be considered to be an unavoidable consequence of her long career.

Dubbed Whaea O Te Motu (Mother of the Nation) Whina has earned her place as one of the great Maori leaders of the 20th Century.

Melanie Smith