Whina Cooper’s land march, which ended in Wellington forty years ago this week, was a turning point in New Zealand’s history. It brought the vast scale of Maori land loss to the wider public’s attention in a way that had never been achieved previously. The land march, and the more strident Maori activism which followed it, led ultimately, from 1984, to official recognition of the harm done to Maori by historical events. The land march, too, is credited with igniting a new confidence among Maori and giving birth to a 20th century Maori renaissance.
The land march coincided with the passage of legislation in Parliament creating the Waitangi Tribunal (October 10th). Originally the Tribunal was only permitted to investigate contemporary breaches of the Treaty, not grievances related to historical events. But this changed in 1984 when the Lange government significantly extended the authority of the Tribunal. And the rest, as they say, is history.
The land march had relatively modest beginnings – just 50 people accompanied the nearly 80 year old Whina as she left the Far North on 14th September. 1000km and one month later Whina was accompanied by thousands of supporters and her petition outlining Maori rights had collected 60,000 signatures.
In today’s world ‘activism’ seems largely reduced to posting on social media. So we’re not suggesting you grab a placard and head outdoors (although you might want to). But there’s plenty you can do to celebrate Dame Whina’s groundbreaking land march, here are a couple of suggestions from us:
1. spend a few minutes learning about how to correctly pronounce Maori words Victoria University’s guide to Maori pronunciation
2. dip a toe into the Treaty-related material shared online by our national repository of treasures – New Zealand Archives – Treaty treasures
3. ask the oldest member of your family if they remember Dame Whina and the land march and find out what they were doing in 1975.
4. and, of course, don’t forget to see what some of New Zealand’s coolest personalities have to say about identity, cultural difference, working together and the Treaty at TalkTreaty.org.nz