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Politicians pay their respects to the life of respected kuia Titewhai ...

Northland kuia Titewhai Harawira was a familiar face at Waitangi Day celebrations.

Titewhai Harawira, the matriarch - mother of eight children, 70 mokopuna and 25 great-great-grandchildren - has spent a lifetime fighting for Māori rights, women’s rights and social justice. Video / Maori Television

Māoridom is today mourning the loss of matriarch Titewhai Harawira who has died aged 90.

The proud Wāhine toa of a close-knit family that was heavily involved in Māori activism, passed away at her Avondale home this morning.

Titewhai - or Ti, as she was commonly known, was a familiar face at Waitangi Day in Northland, where she frequently accompanied prime ministers on to the local marae.

Her son, former MP Hone Harawira, said his mum would lay at her Avondale home tonight before going to Hoani Waititi Marae in Henderson, where she would lie in state.

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“We ask everyone to allow us this first night with mum before she goes to Hoani Waititi,” Harawira said.

From Hoani Waititi Marae, Aunty Ti would return to the north for burial.

Titewhai Harawira with son Hone Harawira, seen here in 2008. Photo / John Stone
Titewhai Harawira with son Hone Harawira, seen here in 2008. Photo / John Stone

Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson has led the tributes to Titewhai, who has had a huge presence in Te Ao Māori and across Aotearoa.

“She wasn’t just a protester but in fact became one of our most important leaders, particularly for urban Māori and challengers to the establishment of the last 50 years,” Jackson said.

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“She helped me when I started Radio Waatea alongside Sid Jackson by being the most radical and controversial hosts in the country, which ensured we won the Māori audience war and she never stopped working in our communities where she worked with me and John Tamihere on the New Zealand Māori Council.

“It’s ironic she dies now, on the day of the PM resignation. Ti loved Jacinda immensely and would have been shattered with her resignation.”

The future King Charles III and Queen Consort Camilla meet Ngāpuhi matriarch Titewhai Harawira at Waitangi in 2019. Photo / Peter de Graaf
The future King Charles III and Queen Consort Camilla meet Ngāpuhi matriarch Titewhai Harawira at Waitangi in 2019. Photo / Peter de Graaf

Māori Party President John Tamihere said Titewhai devoted her entire life - and that of her children - to advancing Māori.

Tamihere wrote the foreword of Titewhai’s book that was printed and published last year to commemorate her 90th birthday in October.

“In that forward, it was acknowledged that if you look through her life story over the nine decades, it follows our journey of being trampled and placed in great difficulty to a relentless energized woman who through her efforts and her family changed the national discourse and narratives around Māori rights to break out of welfarism and dependency of the state and overbearing Pākehā,” Tamihere said.

Titewhai Harawira and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern listen to the speeches at Waitangi 2020. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Titewhai Harawira and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern listen to the speeches at Waitangi 2020. Photo / Michael Cunningham

“Aunty Ti was vilified, in much the same way as Jacinda because everything she tried was set up for failure.

“But her legacy will live on through her children and mokopuna. It is they who will carry on Ti’s mahi.”

Community advocate and cultural advisor Rangi McLean said Ti should have been made a Dame.

“Because of the work she done for the benefit of all Māoridom, she was a woman in her own class,” McLean said.

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“She was disliked and despised by Pākehā but still held her mana - our Māori mana motuhake and in my view that is what made her very strong. She will be sorely missed.”

Green Party co Leader Marama Davidson said Titewhai’s passing was sad news to wake up to.

Kua mate a Titewhai Harawira. Me mihi ka tika ki a koutou o Ngāti Hau, Ngāti Wai, Ngāti Hine - te whānau whānui koutou ko te whānau pani hoki.

“I was privileged to have attended her 90th birthday event (which had been put of in October last year. The gathering was testament to her life-long staunch commitment to activism and action to advance political aspirations for te ao Māori,” Davidson said.

“For several years Titewhai would interview me every Wednesday morning on Radio Waatea where I would seek leave and run down the hallway from my Māori Affairs Committee for a few minutes to be answerable to our people via her cutting questions!

“There are not enough words in the world to express the gratitude for her mahi and focus and legacy - the fruits of which can be seen all around us today in te reo rights, land rights, fishing rights and succession in activism movements to name a few.”

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Moe mai ra e te whaea e te mareikura e te Tōtara i te wao nui a Tāne! I was looking forward to serving you breakfast again next week at Waitangi, as depicted in this photo from Waitangi Day breakfast in 2019. Haere, haere, haere atu rā!

Titewhai Harawira at Waitangi in 2013. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Titewhai Harawira at Waitangi in 2013. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Te Pāti Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said Titewhai was a “trailblazer” for Māori.

“She was vilified as a woman but that never got in her way of fighting for the rights of tangata whenua,” Ngarewa-Packer said.

“Women like Titewhai give the rest of us strength to hold our own and let us be activists and let us be mothers.

“Titewhai never took a backward step.

“Te Pāti Māori acknowledges the life Titewhai lived and the legacy of her mahi that must be upheld.

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“Titewhai was a woman before her time.”

National Party leader Chris Luxon said Titewhai was a marvellous advocate for Māori.

“While I never had the opportunity to meet Titewhai, I respected her passionate advocacy for her people, particularly around land and te reo,” Luxon said.

“She provoked politicians but also guided them.

“She said you can be polite, but you must always be honest, which is how we should all approach difficult conversations.

“My thoughts are with her family.”

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Labour Deputy Leader Kelvin Davis said Titewhai fought to advance her Ngāpuhi tribe, which was also of benefit Māori.

“One’s persons protester is another persons freedom fighter,” Davis said.

“She was formidable if you were on the wrong side of her, but a staunch supporter of people and causes she believed in.

“She had a soft and had a gentle side and also the kind of person who would drink tea from bone China, not a mug.”

At one Waitangi, Davis said, Titewhai let it be known to the Iwi organisers, that she was not impressed by the kai offered the dignitaries who had travelled to Waitangi.

“She made her thoughts be known to the home people that manaaki manuhiri - the hospitality that must be given to the visitors.”

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Titewhai Te Hoia Hinewhare was born in 1932 the Northland farming locality of Whakapara and was raised by her maternal grandparents. After training as a nurse, she married John Harawira in 1952, settling in Avondale, Auckland. They had eight children and adopted another three.

The couple were active in local schools and were founding members of the pioneering Hoani Waititi urban marae in West Auckland. Titewhai Harawira was also active in the Māori Women’s Welfare League, especially its campaign to improve Maori housing. John Harawira died in 1977 and she brought up their extended family on her own.

She became a member of the protest group Ngā Tamatoa in the early 1970s and campaigned hard, often against bitter criticism, for the Māori language. She was one of the leaders of the 1975 land hikoi that marched from the Far North to Parliament.

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