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The Land March in New Zealand

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The March was not just a spontaneous decision! It required a lot of time and planning, six months of planning in fact. One important meeting prior to the march though was when Whina called a hui at Te Puea Marae in Mangere. The meeting was to address the fact that Maori had been rendered landless. A wide range of people attended the meeting and they all decided that land unjustly taken had to be returned and that there was to be no further loss of Maori land.

Everyone there agreed on the fact that there was a need for direct action and suggested a march to parliament, as it would draw a lot of attention. The members of Te Matakite decided to let the people of New Zealand known of these aims by marching from the top of the North Island to Parliament Buildings in Wellington and created a memorial of rights which demanded that all laws that could confiscate Maori land be repealed.

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The Land March began on Sunday, September the 14th, 1975. A group of forty-five marchers, lead by eighty-year-old Whina Cooper, gathered at Te Hapua Marae and set out on a Land March that would soon be known as one of the most influential events in New Zealand history. Most marchers, including Whina, travelled by car while a group of around 50 members walked the whole way. The group called themselves Te Ropu o te Matakite which translates to “ the company of people with a vision for the future” in English. Many members of the group predicted that Maori would continue to lose their precious land if something extraordinary wasn’t done to stop it.

During the protest, they carried a banner that said: “not one more acre.” Meaning that enough was enough. The government had stolen enough from them they will not take one more acre of their land and their culture. The group also carried a carved Pouwhenua with a white flag attached at the top which is traditionally used to mark a tribes territorial mana. The Pouwhenua was carried at the front of the march and was not allowed to touch the ground as it symbolised the large area of land lost by Maori.

Along their Journey from The top of The North Island to Wellington the group stayed in an estimated 20 towns. Some of these towns included Kaitaia, Auckland, Ngaruawahia,Whanganui,Palmerston North,Porirua, and Wellington. Throughout these towns they visited about 25 Maraes.

When they arrived at each of the Maraes, the Tangata Whenua would perform a Karanga which welcomed them onto the land. After the Karanga, the Tangata Whenua continued a traditional Powhiri ( welcoming ceremony). Once the Powhiri finished the members had a wash and then were served a meal. After the meals the Whaikorero ( formal speeches) took place. The Kaupapa, in this case, the memorial, that was kept in a leather bound-box, was then brought out and explained to the people and Whina would often speak about why they were marching.

A poem written by Hone Tuwhare about Whina , Tells a story of what happened during one of their stays at a marae. He says ”I picked up some hard truths embedded in your hilarious speeches on the maraes: No more lollies! We been sucking the pakeha lolly for one hundred and fifty years. Look at what’s happened. Look at what we got left. Only two million acres. Yes, that’s right. Two million acres out of sixty-six million acres. Good gracious, if we let them take what is left we will all become taurekareka. Do we want that? So you listen, now. This is a Sacred March. We are marching because we want to hold on to what is left.” After the Whaikorero the Kaumatua would be asked to step forward and sign the memorial. Which asked parliament to get rid of all the laws that gave governments the right to take Maori land without the consent of its owners.

Support increased and decreased as the group made their way throughout the country but there was mainly an increase, especially as the group approached the Auckland Harbour Bridge. A Radio station spoke to Whina following the march and she is quoted as having said “When I wanted to go across the Harbour Bridge it was blasted all over the papers and everything “you are NOT going to go come over this harbour bridge!” So I sent a telegram to the Chairman of the harbour bridge and the Mayor. And I said “ Let us come on OUR harbour bridge.” and they replied and said come Whina. By allowing Whina and the marchers to cross the bridge it showed that they acknowledged the importance of the hikoi and started to accept it.

After 30 long days of Marching an estimated 1,100 km, many of the participants had bruises, blisters, and aches but that was nothing compared to the years of pain inflicted on their Maori ancestors. To them the pain was worth it as the march had provided a political, cultural and spiritual reawakening. The group now called Te Ropu o te Aotearoa arrived at the Parliament building on October 13th, 1975. The group of 50 had grown to 5,000 and had managed to gather over 60,000 signatures. Of the 60,000 signature, only 200 hundred were from Maori Leaders. It was estimated that about 30,000-40,000 Maori and Pakeha took part in the March but not all Maori approved of the March. The group, surrounded by a crowd of about 30,000, presented the memorial to the Prime Minister at the time Bill Rowling. The prime minister didn’t take any immediate action but assured the group that their journey had not been in vain, and so many of the members left and awaited an outcome.

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