'We changed the world in a good way' - Ngā Tamatoa celebrate 50 years of Māori activism

By Potaka Maipi

Past members of iconic Māori Rights activist group Ngā Tamatoa gathered in Tauranga Moana at the weekend to commemorate and celebrate 50 years since the group's inception. 

One of its members, Professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith, told the reunion being celebrated was something the group was unaccustomed to. 

"Our Tamatoa were spat on, screamed at, hit, yelled at, told to leave, told to get out, told they were koretake - and that was by our own people," she said. 

"It wasn't a time of honouring protestors and activists."

Fifty years on founders,  whānau and later members reunited in Tauranga to reflect and celebrate the achievements gained as a result of Ngā Tamatoa activism. 

"I'm sad that many of the members who were in Ngā Tamatoa are not here to share and to be honoured," she said. "[I'm] grateful that people have chosen to honour us, and to recognise the contribution Ngā Tamatoa has made."


Professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith was a founding member of Ngā Tamatoa 50 years ago. She says the group
changed the world in a good way. Photo/file

In 1972, the group was instrumental in the 30,000-signature strong petition to have Te Reo Māori taught in schools - the catalyst to having kohanga reo, kura kaupapa Māori and, ultimately the Māori Language Act 1987, granting Te Reo Māori official status in Aotearoa. 

Sir Timoti Karetu paid tribute to Ngā Tamatoa, from a kura reo at Waimārama. "Nā koutou kua whai reo ko ēnei. Nā te aha? He hiakai no koutou he kaha nō koutou. Ko koutou ngā kaiwhawhai o te Ao Māori o tērā wā."

Tame Iti, a well-known member of Ngā Tamatoa, reflects on half a century of struggle for te iwi Māori. "He tino anuanu, he hianga tātou i runga i ngā pōhēhētanga te āhuatanga o te Māori. 

"Nā te mea kāore tātou i roto i ngā whakaritenga, i ngā whakanekeneke o te ao i tērā wā. Ka noho pononga tonu tātou mā rātou i taua wā i raro i ngā whakanekeneke o te ao.

"Heoi anō i waimaria i noho taringa turi mātou i ngā tohutohu ki runga i a tātou, ngā pōhēhētanga ki runga i a rātou ki te whakatumatuma, ki te tukituki ki te hunga e pērā ana ki a Ngāi tatou."

Iti says even after 50 years, the group is still fighting for Māori rights. "Kua kaha rawa te whakapākehātanga i roto i ō mātou whakanekeneke. Kua kitea ake, e kare kei te aha kē tātou?

"Kei te tukituki tonu tātou kia tātou. Engari ko te kimi i tētahi huarahi hei mirimiri, hei romiromi, hei whakaratarata, hei whakatau i te ngākau o tātou i tēnei wā." 

Smith, now a leading authority internationally on indigenous education, says the actions of Ngā Tamatoa such as supporting the 1975 land march against whenua confiscations, and the 1979 'Haka Party' incident at Auckland University "changed the world in a good way."

"That's going to be helpful for coming generations."