Māori land march taonga returned, ready for statue honouring Whina Cooper

By Te Ao - Māori News
Moka Puru who carved the Māori land march pouwhenua, under the direction of mother-in-law Whina Cooper.  Photo/File

The treasured pouwhenua or staff that led the Māori land march of 1975 has been returned to the people of Panguru, in preparation for the unveiling of a statue in honour of the famous elder Whina Cooper who led the march.

After many years, the staff has been returned into the hands of the man who carved it under the direction of his mother-in-law Whina Cooper.

"At the time, I didn’t fully understand the significance of a pouwhenua, but I was guided by the spirit to carve this staff.  So we’re overjoyed to have it with us again," son-in-law Moka Puru (Ngāi Tawake, Te Ngare Raumati) says.

This year will mark 45 years since the land march left Te Hapua, with the catch cry that not one more acre of land be taken.

"An important saying of my mother's was to bind the people to the land, that is to bind our grandchildren to the land. Don’t say I’ve got plenty of land, but bind the children and grandchildren and in doing so maintain the land," Whina Cooper's daughter Hine Puru (Te Waiariki, Ngāti Kaitutae, Ngāti Manawa) says.

Moka Puru says the struggle continues to ensure that not one more acre of land is taken.

"For years we’ve been fighting land claims before the Waitangi Tribunal, and the councils continue to take land. They have not stopped taking land, they don’t even wait for the report of the tribunal to continue taking land," he says.

The proposal to erect a statue at Panguru in Northland is a government initiative to be unveiled in the lead up to Waitangi Day, in memory and honour of  Whina Cooper and the key role she played in the march.  A hīkoii contingent from Cape Reinga will join the proceedings there.

"I see that perhaps the Prime Minister understands its significance. And I want her to come here to Panguru and acknowledge in front of our people that the legislation of government has done us wrong," Hine Puru says.

"Not until the Crown addresses the aspirations of the march will the staff be planted in the land.  It will have done its job.  So at this moment, it continues," she says.

From Panguru, the staff will be lifted up to continue its role leading the march to Waitangi. 

Story by Dean Nathan for Te Ao.