Influentials: Events that defined a nation

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It’s an iconic image that tells two tales at once: 80-year-old Dame Whina Cooper was on her way to Parliament, leading the 29-day, 1100km land march or hikoi that brought the sale of Maori tribal land to national attention, and, wider, Maori were on the move, with a cultural renaissance and a strengthening political voice. From the early 1970s, Maori protest groups raised long-held grievances in ways that meant Pakeha could no longer ignore them. There were Waitangi Day protests and the occupations at Raglan and Bastion Point. At the same time, Maori artists and artisans with new things to say appeared – Witi Ihimaera, Patricia Grace, Ralph Hotere. Ihimaera wrote for the Listener about the first conference of Maori writers and artists at Tukaki marae in 1973. It was, he wrote, “a small sneeze, but loud and open-throated and vocal against the restraints limiting Maori artistic expression … the question was, would the sneeze be sustained?” It was. Marae were rebuilt and traditional crafts learnt anew. Te reo became an official language and was taught in schools. Kohanga reo were started. The hikoi model left such a dent in our consciousness that it has been re-used twice: by the churches in their 1998 march against poverty, and this year in the foreshore and seabed hikoi, which saw Maori land issues once again brought to the steps of Parliament.

The Listener

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