Long-time activist Titewhai Harawira dies aged 90

Northland kuia and long-time activist Titewhai Harawira has died.

The Ngāti Hau, Ngāti Wai and Ngāti Hine matriarch was 90 years old.

She had become synonymous with Waitangi Day commemorations, often accompanying Prime Ministers onto Te Whare Rūnanga.

In recent years, she would gently hold Jacinda Ardern’s hand during the parliamentary pōwhiri and on the mahau of the marae.

She was best known for her activism, joining Ngā Tamatoa in the 1970s.

The group fiercely advocated for Māori rights and demanded greater recognition for te reo Māori.

In 1972, Ngā Tamatoa delivered the Māori Language Petition to Parliament, signed by 30,000 people, supporting the teaching of te reo Māori in schools.

Titewhai Harawira (left) has died aged 90.

In 2017, she spoke to E-Tangata about why the petition was so important.

“Most of us in Ngā Tamatoa who were pushing for more support for te reo Māori didn’t speak the language ourselves. And there was that feeling that if you didn’t speak Māori, you’re weren’t Māori.

"But all we were doing was putting out what our people were talking about in the whare, in the tūpuna whare, up and down the country. Reflecting the concern about our reo. Taking that kōrero out into the public arena and doing it our way. With placards and banners and leaflets and things.”

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins paid tribute to the activist, saying he didn't know her well but acknowledged her commitment to Māori.

“I’ve only met her once or twice - normally at Waitangi.

“I do want to acknowledge her passing, and I do want to send my condolences and my aroha to her whānau.

“There will be a lot of kiwis who didn’t agree with Titewhai Harawira, but no one could doubt her passion and her sincerity and her commitment to Māori,” he said.

Minister for Māori Development Willie Jackson also paid tribute to Harawira, calling her "a change agent."

"Titewhai Harawira came to signify the essence of the Māori renaissance period, an awakening of Māoridom to not only the wrongs of our collective past, but just as importantly in setting in place a framework for the collective progression of our country through honouring the commitments of our forebearers to Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the promises it holds for all.

"Whaea Titewhai has ensured her legacy will live on in the words and actions of her tamariki, mokopuna and uri whakaheke. She has instilled in every one of them the fighting spirit she herself become known for," he said.

Titewhai will lay at her home in Avondale for a night before going to Hoani Waititi Marae in Henderson to lie in state for a short time.

She will then be taken home, up north, to be buried.