“It is said of very few people that they were ahead of their times, but Tā Kereama Ratima (Sir Graham Latimer) was one of the few who deserves that accolade,” said Rangimarie Naida Glavish, president of the Māori Party in her tribute to the late Sir Graham Latimer who died recently.
“Tā Kereama had the perceptive vision to see what needed to be done to restore mana and pride to ngā tangata whenua in the aftermath of colonisation that robbed our people of so much of our land and our taonga. But rather than just sit back and protest, he searched out ways to redress the wrongs of the past, in a way that restored our mana and as much of our whenua and taonga as was possible in what had become a Pākehā-dominated environment.
Tā Kereama was a pragmatist; not only did he know how much was achievable; he also knew what had to be done to achieve it.
“When Māori involvement in the political life of Aotearoa was confined to four Māori members of the Labour Party as a legacy of the 1936 covenant between Labour Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage and Tahupōtiki Wīremu Ratana, Tā Kereama recognised other pathways to political influence, and they led him to stand as National Party candidate for Northern Māori in 1969 and 1972, and to become Māori vice-president of that party 1981-1992, which gave him great influence in the National Governments of 1969-72, and again 1975-84.
“But, for Tā Kereama, politics was but a means to the end of bettering the interests of te iwi Māori. In 1973, he became chair of the New Zealand Māori Council for the next 40 years. In that role, he transcended party politics, and was able to co-operate with his fellow Tai Tokerau rangatira, Matiu Rata, a Labour Government Minister of Māori Affairs, in the creation in 1975 of the Waitangi Tribunal. In 1987, he led the successful Māori Council challenge in the Court of Appeal that resulted in recognition of the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi becoming embedded into our laws.
“Tā Kereama led the Maori Language claim lodged jointly in the Waitangi Tribunal by the NZ Maori Council and Ngā Kaiwhakapūmau i te Reo Māori. The claim culminated in te reo Māori being recognised as a taonga and an official language of Aotearoa NZ through the enactment of the Māori Language Act. and the establishment of the Māori Language Commission. His leadership of the Māori broadcasting case which went through the Waitangi Tribunal, all the way to the Privy Council eventually led to the establishment of the iwi Māori radio network, Te Māngai Paho and the Māori Television Service.
“Tā Kereama mortgaged his farm to fund the case taken by the Māori Council against the Crown over State Owned Enterprises. This was a landmark case not only because of the outcome, but it also was a memorable hallmark of the calibre of his leadership in seeking justice for his people.
“He went on to become a leading figure in Māori attainment of a substantial share of our fisheries, as well as ownership of lands underlying Crown forests.
“As much as any other Māori leader, Tā Kereama laid the foundations for what has become today a Māori economy worth over $40 billion. But, more than that economic progress and security, he played a huge role in restoring our own pride and mana.
“While attending Tā Kereama’s tangi with the Hon Te Ururoa Flavell yesterday, my mind turned back to his capacity for prompt action when, in May 1984, Dr Ranginui Walker, then chair of the Auckland District Māori Council, sought permission from Tā Kereama as chair of the Māori Council for support to release to media the issue of the NZ Post Office disallowing me from using the greeting ‘Kia ora, tolls here’. Permission was granted immediately.
“I know from my associations with Tā Kereama within te iwi o Ngāti Whatua, that he was happy that we now have our own political voice in the form of Te Pāti Māori (the Māori Party). We can best honour his memory, and his many huge achievements on our behalf, by living up to the ideals of kotahitanga and service to all our people that were the hallmarks of his impressive life,” said Ms Glavish.