Whina Cooper

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Whina Cooper

Whina Cooper addressing the Māori Land March at Hamilton in 1975
Whina Cooper addressing the Māori Land March at Hamilton in 1975
Hōhepine Te Wake

(1895-12-09)9 December 1895
Te Karaka, Hokianga, New Zealand
Died26 March 1994(1994-03-26) (aged 98)
Panguru, New Zealand
OccupationSchoolteacher, historian, activist

Dame Whina Cooper ONZ DBE (9 December 1895 – 26 March 1994) was a respected kuia (Māori elder), who worked for many years for the rights of her people, and particularly to improve the lot of Māori women. Her wide influence and nationally recognised activity led her to be acknowledged with awards in both the British (Imperial) and New Zealand Royal Honours Systems, and by her own people, who bestowed the title Te Whaea o te Motu ("Mother of the Nation") upon her.

Early life[edit]

Dame Whina Cooper was born Hōhepine Te Wake,[1] daughter of Catholic catechist Heremia Te Wake and Kare Pauro Kawatihi, of the Te Rarawa iwi, at Te Karaka, Hokianga.[2]

From an early age she showed an interest in her father’s role, and in history and genealogy. Her education began at Whakarapa Native School. In 1907 she attended St Joseph’s Maori Girls’ College. After high school she returned to Whakarapa where her father wanted her to enter into an arranged marriage with Tureiti Te Heuheu Tukino V, leader of Ngati Tuwharetoa. Cooper refused and instead worked at a local co-operative store. She worked as a teacher for a brief time, at Pawarenga Native School. However, as one of only three teachers she became frustrated and found her time stretched between teaching and helping her own community. She left teaching in 1914.

Cooper's first involvement in politics was in the form of a land dispute over an area of leased mudflats. The farmer, Bob Holland, who rented the land, wanted to drain the estuary for farming. That would have obstructed current use of the land by local iwi for gathering seafood and racing horses during the drier months. Heremia challenged the lease in court and Cooper led a group of protestors to fill in Holland's drains. The protestors were eventually charged with trespassing but they had stalled events long enough for Heremia to be successful and the lease was withdrawn by the Marine Department. She played a leading role in community activities, impressing politician Sir Āpirana Ngata who invited her to a national hui in 1932. She worked alongside him to promote Māori land development programmes in the Hokianga.

National political activity[edit]

She moved to Auckland in 1949 when her second husband, William Cooper, died. Her political activity changed from local to national. In September 1951 she was elected first president of the new Māori Women's Welfare League[3] "which was able to improve things notably for Maori women", working on health, housing, education, and welfare.[4] In 1957 she stepped down as president and the annual conference rewarded her with the title Te Whaea o te Motu ("Mother of the Nation"). During the 1960s she worked on a local level around Auckland, but kept largely out of the national spotlight. This changed in 1975 when a coalition of Māori groups asked her to lead them in a protest against the loss of Māori land. She agreed, proposing a hikoi (a symbolic march) from the northern tip of the North Island to Parliament in Wellington at the other end of the island. [5]

During September and October 1975, the nearly 80-year-old Cooper again became nationally recognised, walking at the head of the Māori land march from Te Hapua to Wellington. The slogan of the march was "not one more acre of Maori land"; they demanded acknowledgement of property rights under the Treaty of Waitangi.[6]

Honours and awards[edit]


On February 3 2021, a memorial at the Waipuna Marae was unveiled in Panguru, Hokianga[14][15]

Named in her honour[edit]

In 2020, the tunnel boring machine that will be used to construct the twin tunnels of the City Rail Link in Auckland between Mount Eden station and Aotea station has been named "Dame Whina Cooper".[16]


Cooper returned to Panguru in the Hokianga in 1983 and died there, aged 98, in 1994.


  1. ^ King, Michael (1983). Whina, a biography of Whina Cooper. Hodder and Stoughton. p. 36. ISBN 0-340-338733.
  2. ^ Oliver, Steven. "Heremia Te Wake". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 23 April 2017.
  3. ^ Ministry for Culture and Heritage (6 May 2010). "Dame Whina Cooper". Retrieved 17 April 2011.
  4. ^ Grau, Marion (2011). Rethinking Mission in the Postcolony: Salvation, Society and Subversion. A&C Black. pp. 58–59. ISBN 9780567280886.
  5. ^ King, Michael (2000). "'Cooper, Whina', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography".
  6. ^ Mein Smith, Philippa (2005). A Concise History of New Zealand. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 228–229. ISBN 978-0-521-54228-9.
  7. ^ "No. 39866". The London Gazette (4th supplement). 1 June 1953. p. 3005.
  8. ^ "No. 46312". The London Gazette (3rd supplement). 15 June 1974. p. 6830.
  9. ^ "No. 48469". The London Gazette (3rd supplement). 31 December 1980. p. 39.
  10. ^ Taylor, Alister; Coddington, Deborah (1994). Honoured by the Queen – New Zealand. Auckland: New Zealand Who's Who Aotearoa. p. 106. ISBN 0-908578-34-2.
  11. ^ "The Queen's Birthday Honours List." (1 July 1991) 98 New Zealand Gazette 2191.
  12. ^ "No. 52564". The London Gazette (2nd supplement). 15 June 1991. p. 29.
  13. ^ "The New Zealand Suffrage Centennial Medal 1993 – register of recipients". Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. 26 July 2018. Retrieved 18 September 2018.
  14. ^ https://e-tangata.co.nz/reflections/whina-cooper-fearless-and-unforgettable/
  15. ^ https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/te-manu-korihi/408730/people-gathered-at-waipuna-marae-for-unveiling-of-dame-whina-cooper-statue
  16. ^ "City Rail Link update" (PDF). Roundabout (165): 44. September 2020. Retrieved 12 October 2020.

Further reading[edit]

  • King, Michael (2003). Cooper, Whina 1895–1994 (biography of Dame Whina Cooper)

External links[edit]