Jacinda Ardern brings Neve to honour Māori land activist as Ihumātao protest leader Pania Newton watches on

Jacinda Ardern held her daughter Neve and joined several senior parliamentary officials in Northland's Panguru to unveil a statue of the late Māori activist Dame Whina Cooper. 

The Prime Minister was welcomed to the Waipuna Marae mid-morning on Monday with a pōwhiri to celebrate the late activist's life, ahead of Waitangi Day celebrations this week. 

Ardern was joined at the commemorations by Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, Speaker Trevor Mallard, and other senior ministers including Andrew Little, Shane Jones, Kelvin Davis, Nanaia Mahuta and Peeni Henare. 

The Prime Minister was escorted to the marae by members of the community and Dame Whina's family, who directed her to the pōwhiri held on the marae grounds. 

Under the blistering sun, Ardern stood before the statue alongside her parliamentary colleagues - who also included Green MPs Marama Davidson, Eugenie Sage and Jan Logie - to acknowledge the late activist. 

Jacinda Ardern being welcomed onto Waipuna Marae.
Jacinda Ardern being welcomed onto Waipuna Marae. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small
Green MPs Marama Davidson and Jan Logie arriving at Waipuna Marae.
Green MPs Marama Davidson and Jan Logie arriving at Waipuna Marae. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

Dame Whina is known for her participation in the 1975 Land March that covered more than 1100km in only 30 days, visiting 20 marae beginning at Te Hapua in the Far North, and leading around 5000 marchers to the steps of Parliament. 

"The Land March exemplified her strength of character, her foresight, her stamina and her leadership," Ardern said, also mentioning that this week is the 180th commemorative week of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. 

Shane Jones, Winston Peters, Jacinda Ardern and Trevor Mallard sit with members of Dame Whina's family.
Shane Jones, Winston Peters, Jacinda Ardern and Trevor Mallard sit with members of Dame Whina's family. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small
Jacinda Ardern brings Neve to honour Māori land activist as Ihumātao protest leader Pania Newton watches on
Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

"There are few statues that capture role models, particularly within Māoridom, and so this is significant for many reasons."

The statue recreates an iconic photo of Dame Whina walking hand-in-hand with her mokopuna Irenee Cooper, at the start of the Land March. 

"This statue celebrates Dame Whina's leadership, rangatiratanga and mana, and will serve as an ongoing testament to the legacy she left for all New Zealanders," Minister for Crown-Māori relations, Kelvin Davis, said.

Ministers Kelvin Davis, Peeni Henare, Winston Peters and Shane Jones meet members of the Panguru community.
Ministers Kelvin Davis, Peeni Henare, Winston Peters and Shane Jones meet members of the Panguru community. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

The aim of the hikoi in 1975 was to protest ongoing Māori land alienation, stemmed from concerns over the historic sale of Māori land and the control of land still in Māori hands. 

Whānau Ora Minister Peeni Henare noted how Speaker Trevor Mallard was one of those who marched in 1975. 

The Prime Minister is facing her own Māori land dilemma with Ihumātao, and it caught up with her at the Waipuna Marare in Panguru - a community in northern Hokianga - when Ihumātao protest leader Pania Newton showed up. 

Pania Newton standing next to a portrait of Dame Whina Cooper.
Pania Newton standing next to a portrait of Dame Whina Cooper. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

Ihumātao, an area of land in Māngere near Auckland International Airport, is where Māori activists have been protesting against Fletcher Building's plans to build 500 homes.

The Prime Minister negotiated a temporary halt to construction at Ihumātao in July last year while a solution was sought but that is still yet to be announced. 

"The goal is to end that dispute," Ardern told reporters at Waipuna Marae. "Development has occurred as we've been working with all parties to find a resolution."

Jacinda Ardern giving a hug at Waipuna Marae.
Jacinda Ardern giving a hug at Waipuna Marae. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

Ardern said she "would like to think" that the work the Government has been doing to fix the dispute over Ihumātao would have Dame Whina's support. 

"There are huge layers of complexity - if there was an easy answer we would have found it by now... but we are working through it and we are doing it with all parties at the table."

But Ardern said she hasn't met Newton yet, who has been the face of the occupation at Ihumātao since 2016. Ardern said she would likely run into Newton during her time away for Waitangi commemorations. 

Ardern was asked if she thinks Dame Whina had similar qualities to Newton. 

Jacinda Ardern being gifted image of Dame Whina Cooper.
Jacinda Ardern being gifted image of Dame Whina Cooper. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

"There have been a number of wāhine that I meet that I do think possess these incredible traits that Dame Whina had - she was resilient, she had huge stamina, and she worked all the way through her life on behalf of her people but also New Zealand."

Newton said the hikoi she arrived in at Waipuna Marae was not supposed to be confrontational. It was one, she said, that happens every year to travel from Cape Reinga down to Waitangi, and they decided to stop by to pay respects to Dame Whina. 

"Off to Panguru we go to commemorate Whina Cooper, Waipuna Marae, Matakite, and the Māori Land March," the #protectihumatao Instagram account said ahead of the march. 

Jacinda Ardern brings Neve to honour Māori land activist as Ihumātao protest leader Pania Newton watches on
Photo credit: Instagram

Ngāpuhi elder Rihari Dargaville, in his speech to the politicians gathered at Waipuna Marae emphasised the importance of Māori -Crown relations. 

He recalled seeing Ardern on a CNN segment about women leaders and how the United States is yet to have a female leader. 

"You are well-known around the world," he told Ardern.  

The Prime Minister's daughter Neve - who will be two years old soon - was a crowd favourite at the marae, often laughing and looking curiously at the crowds.  

Ardern joked that Neve was the focus of many of her discussions with Panguru locals, and she said they also wished her the best for the upcoming general election. 

The day wrapped up for Ardern with a lunch hosted by the marae and Dame Whina's family, which included a haka and other powerful, welcoming performances. 

The Prime Minister sat next to her partner during the festivities and held Neve while her parliamentary colleagues sat on either side of her. 

Jacinda Ardern with her partner Clarke Gayford and their daughter Neve.
Jacinda Ardern with her partner Clarke Gayford and their daughter Neve. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

Ardern was gifted a framed copy of the image of Dame Whina from the late activist's family. 

The Prime Minister finished the day chatting to locals and catching up with New Zealand actress Rena Owen, best known for her leading role as Beth Heke in Once Were Warriors. 

Jacinda Ardern talking to Rena Owen at Waipuna Marae.
Jacinda Ardern talking to Rena Owen at Waipuna Marae. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

On Tuesday, the Prime Minister will be welcomed at the Waitangi Grounds along with other parliamentarians.

Jacinda Ardern taking a photo with a local woman.
Jacinda Ardern taking a photo with a local woman. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small
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