About 5000 marchers arrived at Parliament and presented a petition signed by 60,000 people to Prime Minister Bill Rowling. The primary aim of the hīkoi (march) was to call for an end to the alienation (sale) of Māori land.
Te Rōpū Matakite (‘Those with Foresight’) was launched at a hui convened by Te Rarawa leader Whina Cooper at Mangere Marae in early 1975. Its creation stemmed from concerns over the seemingly relentless alienation of Maori land and the control of the 1.2 million ha still in Māori hands. Cooper believed it was time to make Māori grievances more visible. Te Rōpū Matakite aimed to unite Māori across iwi boundaries.
After six months of planning, 50 marchers left Te Hāpua in the far north on 14 September for the 1000-km walk to Wellington. They were led by Whina Cooper, who was nearly 80 years old. Rallying behind the catch-cry of ‘Not one more acre of Maori land’, the hīkoi quickly grew in strength. As it approached towns and cities, local people joined in to offer moral support. The marchers stopped overnight at 25 different marae, on which Cooper led discussions about the purpose of the march. By helping to politicise large numbers of Māori, the hīkoi had an impact far beyond its original intention. It represented a reassertion of Māori identity.
On 23 September thousands of marchers approached Auckland. By now media interest had grown. Ngāti Whātua leader Joe Hawke led the hīkoi over the Harbour Bridge in the full glare of the national media. This was to be repeated as thousands marched along the motorway into Wellington on 13 October.
By the time the marchers reached Parliament, 60,000 signatures had been gathered for the memorial of rights. At the end of the march, though, Matakite collapsed as various factions sought alternative ways of continuing their protest. Whina Cooper publicly distanced herself from one group which established a tent embassy on the steps of Parliament. Another group went on a march around the East Coast. It is a testament to Cooper’s personal mana that she had managed to hold such a diverse group together for eight months.
In the aftermath of this march, there were other high-profile protests over the loss of Māori land, including the occupation of Bastion Point (1977) and of the Raglan golf course (1978).
Image: Whina Cooper (DNZB)