The former Cabinet Minister and Labour MP died in the ”last couple of days”, Labour MP Parekura Horomia said this afternoon.
”She was a great Maori leader and certainly she will be sadly missed. She was one of the real great New Zealand woman leaders too because she did a lot of firsts.”
Whetu, of Ngai Tahu, was Labour MP for Southern Maori for 29 years, from 1967 till 1996. She famously travelled up to 40,000km each year getting around her electorate.
She was born in 1932, and pioneered educational, welfare, cultural, and community programmes for Maori people for over 30 years.
When she appointed to the Order of New Zealand in 1993, her citation said she had worked towards the “harmonious relationship between the Maori and European New Zealand communities and advocated on behalf of Maori in order to remove disparities between the two cultures”.
She was Minister of Tourism, Associate Minister of Social Welfare, and Minister for the Environment.
She was also instrumental in the establishment of the Waitangi Tribunal, was the founding President of the New Zealand Maori Students’ Federation and as Vice-President of the Victoria University of Wellington Students’ Association in 1960, she advocated the student health counselling service, the instigation of tuition in te reo, and the offering of New Zealand history courses at university.
Her citation also said she advocated for Maori news on radio and television, the protection of Maori fishing grounds, the Tangata Whenua vote, and she pioneered preventative health education in Maori.
It is understood she died in Wellington. A public service would be held on August 12, Mr Horomia said. No further details of the service were available.