June 12, 2016
Tribute: Sir Graham Latimer
Sir Graham Latimer will be remembered.
It is only right that I pay tribute to Sir Graham Latimer who passed away last week at the age of 90 years age. In the Maori world he will go down as one of the finest leaders of the last 50 years.
Sir Graham was a fascinating character, he was a National Party member which in itself was very unusual as most of our people were Labour Party people and still are. However it was the style of Sir Graham that was particularly interesting.
He was quite different to our Maori activists, their style in the 1970s, 80s and 90s was one of confrontation which was best exemplified by Nga Tamatoa who were led by my uncle and auntie Syd and Hana Jackson and the Waitangi action committee. Their prominent leadership was the Harawira whanau, in particular Hone and wife Hilda and their matriarch Titiwhai.
These groups at times would fight for Maori rights to their last breath both in an academic and even physical sense if necessary. They were so committed to advancing justice for Maori, they modelled themselves on some of the black groups like the Black Panther movement in America who were going through similar struggles in terms of racism and oppression. They made a huge impact on Maori society and they are groups and people who I will always admire.
However Sir Graham was not part of that group. Rather than fight with the government and challenge them over their racism he decided to join them. That’s why so many of the activists in the early days labelled him as a sell out and traitor to his people. Labels and name calling though, never worried Sir Graham in the slightest.
As a senior official in the National Party he was able to get the ear of National Party Ministers and Prime Ministers and his strategy was to highlight the injustices that had befallen Maori. Then as the Chair of the NZ Maori Council he successfully took the government to court when he initiated an appeal against the state owned enterprises which led to protection of our land, forests, fisheries and language. Sir Graham did this by mortgaging his farm, such was his commitment to advancing Maori rights.
In 1980 when he was appointed a knight he was abused and threatened by the activists of the time. Yet so many of those activists have paid tribute to the great work that he did during his lifetime. One of them, former Tribesman gang leader and now top bureaucrat Ben Dalton said to me that obviously it was a bit unfortunate what Sir Graham had to endure, but then those were the times and at the time it seemed right. However he said he had huge respect for Sir Graham but it was only later in life when Ben really started to appreciate his work.
And that is probably the reality for many of us who have protested against injustice, while we absolutely support our staunch activists it took time for all of us to appreciate the quiet, understated and in the end very successful styles of the Graham Latimer’s of this world. He was a leader who made us think there was another way of protesting, another way of leading and he will be well remembered for that.
No reira e te Rangatira Ta Kereama Moe Mai Moe Mai ra.
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