Sir Graham's passion for justice remembered

12:37 pm on 8 June 2016

Mourners from around the north are flocking to Te Paatu marae near Kaitaia today for the tangi for Sir Graham Latimer.

Sir Graham Latimer

Sir Graham Latimer Photo: Dominion Post Collection / Alexander Turnbull Library

The influential Maori leader, credited with enshrining the Treaty of Waitangi in New Zealand law through successive court challenges, died yesterday at his Pamapuria home, aged 90.

Te Paatu marae is preparing for the many hundreds of mourners expected to pay their respects to Sir Graham before his funeral on Saturday.

Former Labour Cabinet Minister Dover Samuels said Sir Graham was no orator, but he was a canny political operator, whose passion for justice was often concealed by his quiet manner.

"Until of course, people rubbed him up the wrong way in terms of the law, and the injustices against his people, then he was committed," Mr Samuels said.

"He had a tenacity to be able to play politics, and challenge injustice, in a different way."

'I am so sad that he has died'

Two former New Zealand prime ministers have also paid tribute to the accomplishments of the late Māori leader.

Sir Geoffrey Palmer said Sir Graham's court challenges to the government in the late 1980s, on behalf of the Māori Council, led to the ongoing protection of Māori interests in state assets.

Sir Geoffrey said the Far North leader was central to the negotiations that followed, over fishing rights and other claims.

"He was absolutely trustworthy and he always kept his side of the bargin. And for governments dealing with people, that isn't always the case. I have enormous respect for Graham Latimer, and I am so sad that he has died."

Jim Bolger said the country had lost an outstanding New Zealander.

Mr Bolger said as the leader of the Māori Council, Sir Graham was utterly committed to resolving injustices suffered by Māori, whether by court action or pragmatic negotiation with the government.

"His work in that period, in the 1980s and 1990s, was instrumental in a very big way, to the peaceful process we have today to settle Treaty agreements, so what we are doing today owes a great deal to the input of Sir Graham, all those many years back."

Mr Bolger said Sir Graham was never a flamboyant leader, but his quiet, engaging manner produced excellent results for his people.

Sir Graham 'took on the big issues'

Former Labour MP Shane Jones said Sir Graham was the ultimate risk-taker who knew how to wager and win, although he was not universally adored for it.

Mr Jones told Morning Report Sir Graham stood up and took on the big issues of his time, under enormous pressure.

"If one recites the names of the various young figures throughout the protest movement, our names are really a dim candlelight in some respect, to the flame that Graham Latimer held."

Former Waitangi Tribunal chairman and current Māori Council chair, Eddie Durie, told the programme Sir Graham's legacy lay in the restoration of balance between Māori and Pakeha.

"That was equal appreciation of both Māori and Pakeha things. He had a Scottish mother and his Maori father, and I think in the end he really typified that, he was really drawing together both races."

Sir Graham is now lying in state at Te Paatu Marae, near Kaitaia, and will be buried on Saturday.