Titewhai Harawira dies aged 90

updated By Will Trafford

Titewhai Harawira reminisces on nearly 90 years of activism with grandson Tumamao Harawira. Video / Whakaata Māori, Photo / Doug Sherring / NZME

Prominent Northland rangatira Titewhai Harawira (Ngāti Hau, Ngāti Wai, Ngāti Hine) has died aged 90.

A civil rights campaigner, activist and political commentator, Harawira was inspiration for Ngā Tamatoa during its landmark 1970s victories promoting Māori rights, fighting racial discrimination, and confronting Crown breaches of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

Alongside fellow campaigners Dame Whina Cooper and Eva Rickard, Harawira was a prominent face of the 1975 land hikoi from Te Tai Tokerau to Parliament.

Titewhai Harawira and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern listen to the speeches at Waitangi 2020. Photo / Michael Cunningham / NZME

Titewhai Harawira and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern listen to the speeches at Waitangi 2020. Photo / Michael Cunningham / NZME

Born Titewhai Te Hoia Hinewhare in Whakapara, Te Tai Tokerau in 1932, she was raised by her maternal grandparents. Having trained as a nurse, she married John Harawira in 1952, the pair settling in Avondale in Tāmaki Makaurau.

Nine children, including prominent politician Hone Harawira, and another three adopted children, did nothing to slow Harawira's activism.

She became active in the Māori Women's Welfare League, especially in its campaign to improve housing.

John Harawira died in 1977 when the pair's youngest child was just eight-years-old, Titewhai raised the extended whānau herself.

Titewhai Harawira with son Hone Harawira, seen here in 2008. Photo / John Stone / NZME

Titewhai Harawira with son Hone in 2008. Photo / John Stone / NZME

Titewhai Harawira became a familiar face at Waitangi commemorations from the 1970s, accompanying prime ministers and heads of state onto the Treaty grounds.

She will lie at her home in Avondale for one night, before going to Hoani Waititi Marae in Henderson where she will lie in state.

She will return to the north for burial.

John Harawira died in 1977 and Titewhai Harawira brought up their extended family on her own. Photo / Sarah Ivey / NZME

John Harawira died in 1977 and Titewhai Harawira brought up their extended family. Photo / Sarah Ivey / NZME

Tributes flow

Crown Relations Minister and Te Tai Tokerau MP Kelvin Davis says he was saddened to learn this morning of the death of the "great Ngāpuhi leader and activist".

"Kua ngū te reo o te piki kōtuku o Ngāpuhi, o Titewhai Harawira."

I want to acknowledge her for her life-long dedication and advocacy for Māori rights.

"In the coming days we will no doubt hear more of her great achievements, but I want to also acknowledge her as a mother, a grandmother and a great-grandmother.

"My thoughts are with her whānau and wider communities as they prepare to farewell their matriarch, Davis says.

"Te whaea takoto mai rā i te takotoranga o te tini me te mano, waiho mai i a mātou ki muri nei kia tangi, kia poroporoaki i a koe."

Newly sworn-in Prime Minister Chris Hipkins passed on his condolences to the Harawira family. He said he had only met Harawira once or twice and knew her son Hone more from his time in Parliament.

'Firm and fierce'

Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson rates Harawira as a "warrior woman". He told NZME today that Harawira wasn't just a protester "but in fact became one of our most important leaders, particularly for urban Māori and challengers to the establishment of the last 50 years".

“She helped me when I started Radio Waatea alongside Sid Jackson by being the most radical and controversial hosts in the country, which ensured we won the Māori audience war and she never stopped working in our communities where she worked with me and John Tamihere on the New Zealand Māori Council.

“It’s ironic she dies now, on the day of the prime minister's resignation. Ti loved Jacinda immensely and would have been shattered with her resignation.”

University of Auckland deputy dean Faculty of Education and Social Work Professor Melinda Webber (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Hau, Ngāti Kahu, Ngāti Whakaue) Te Tumu, deputy dean, also paid tribute to Harawira:  “Whaea Titewhai always stood resolute, firm and fierce - like the maunga of Te Tai Tokerau.

"My kaumatua, Graham Latimer, always said that Whaea Titewhai would fight for justice until her dying breath; demanding that the Crown act with integrity and honour Te Whakaputanga and Te Tiriti o Waitangi. E tika ana tana kōrero.” 

“E te Whaea, e tangi ano to iwi mou kua whakangaro atu koe ki tua o te arai.

 "Haere atu e te māreikura, hikoitia te araroa, e kore ano koe ka hoki tinana mai.

 "Na reira, ka piki ake koe ki runga i o maunga whakahī e tu ana i te ao, i te po.” 

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