Whina Cooper, of Te Rārawa, was born in northern Hokianga in 1895. She took part in local affairs and by the 1930s had become a leader of the northern Hokianga people. In 1932 she played an active role, with Āpirana Ngata, in setting up Maori land development schemes in the region. Eleven schemes (comprising 98,000 acres, or 40,000 hectares) were set up in the Hokianga district, and Whina supervised several. The schemes made rapid progress, although several later proved uneconomic.
When her second husband (Bill Cooper) died in 1949 Whina moved to Auckland. Here she found a new role as a pan-tribal Māori leader. She was foundation president of the Maori Women's Welfare League, and was active in creating regional branches. By the mid-1950s the League had over 300 branches and 4,000 members. It greatly improved improving living conditions for Māori who had recently moved to the cities and faced discrimination in housing and employment. Whina was appointed an MBE in 1953.
Whina Cooper is perhaps best known for leading the famous 1975 land march from Te Hāpua (in the far north) to Parliament in Wellington. The march was organised by Māori groups opposed to the further loss of their land. It marked a new era of protest and reform.
For most New Zealanders who witnessed the march the most inspiring image was the seemingly frail but passionately articulate 80-year-old woman who led it. About 5,000 marchers arrived at Parliament on October 13, 1975, where Whina presented a petition signed by 60,000 people to the Prime Minister, Bill Rowling.
Whina Cooper continued in public life, opening the Auckland Commonwealth Games in 1990. She told an international audience to remember 'that the Treaty was signed so that we could all live as one nation in Aotearoa'.
Whina Cooper died at Hokianga in 1994, aged 98. More than a million people watched the live television broadcast of her tangihanga (funeral).
I whānau mai a Whina Cooper ki Hokianga i te tau 1895. Ko Te Rārawa tōna iwi. I whai wāhi ia ki ngā nekeneke me ngā kaupapa o tōna hapori. Tae ana ki te tekau tau atu i 1930, e ārahi ana a Whina i tōna iwi e noho mai rā i te raki o Hokianga. I te tau 1932 ka mahi a ia i te taha o Āpirana Ngata ki te whakatū kaupapa ahuwhenua ki ngā whenua Māori o tōna rohe. Tekau mā tahi ngā kaupapa ahuwhenua (e 98,000 eka, e 40,000 heketea rānei) ka tū ki te takiwā o Hokianga, ko Whina te kaiwhakahaere i ētahi. I te tīmatanga ka whai hua ngā mahi ahuwhenua; nāwai ā, ka hinga ētahi.
I te matenga o tana tāne a Bill Cooper i te tau 1949 ka hūnuku a Whina ki Tāmaki-makau-rau noho ai. I reira ka tū ia hei kaiārahi mō te ao Māori whānui. Ka tohungia ko ia hei perehitini tuatahi o te Rōpū Wāhine Toko i te Ora. He maha ngā peka o te rōpū nāna i tīmata. Kia tae ki te pokapū o te tekau tau atu i 1950 e 300 ngā peka o te rōpū, e 4000 ana mema. Ka nui te āwhina a te rōpū nei ki te whakapai ake i te noho o ngā whānau Māori kātahi anō ka hūnuku ki te tāone, i te mea ka rongo ēnei whānau i te whakatoihara iwi i a rātou ka rapu kāinga, ka rapu mahi mā rātou. I te tau 1953 ka whakawhiwhia a Whina ki te tohu MBE.
Mōhiotia whānuitia ai a Whina Cooper i te mea nāna i ārahi te hīkoi rongonui o te tau 1975 mō te whenua. Ka tīmata tēnei hīkoi i Te Hāpua, e ahu atu ana ki te Whare Pāremata i Te Whanga-nui-a-Tara. He mea whakarite e ngā rōpū mautohe Māori e ātete ana i te ngaronga o ngā maramara whenua e noho tonu ana ki ngā ringaringa o te Māori. He āhuatanga hou tēnei momo mautohe ki Aotearoa.
Ka hiki rā ngā manawa o ngā tāngata tokomaha o Aotearoa i tēnei rūruhi e 80 te pakeke kei te ārahi i te hīkoi. E 5000 pea ngā tāngata ka tae ki te Whare Pāremata i te rā 13 o Oketopa o te tau 1975. I reira ka tāpaea e Whina te pitihana nā te 60,000 i haina, ki mua i te Pirimia a Bill Rowling.
Ka noho tonu a Whina Cooper ki mua i te aroaro o te iwi whānui o Aotearoa. Nāna ngā Taumāhekeheke o te Commonwealth ka tū ki Tāmaki-makau-rau i whakatuwhera i te tau 1990. Ko tana kupu ki te tini o Aotearoa me te ao e mātakitaki ana, 'i hainatia te Tiriti e tareka ai te noho tahi o ngā iwi i Aotearoa'.
Nō te tau 1994 ka mate a Whina Cooper ki Hokianga. E 98 tana pakeke. Neke atu i te kotahi miriona tāngata ka mātaki i tōna tangihanga i runga pouaka whakaata.