Dame Rangimarie Naida Glavish says Aotearoa must work to keep Te Reo Māori alive forever.
Watch Dame Naida live:
Today marks the start of Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori - Māori Language week.
This year's theme will be 'Kia Kaha te Reo Māori' - 'Let's make the Māori language strong' - following on from the success of last year's theme 'Kia Ora te Reo Māori'.
Dame Naida has played a hugely important role in Māori in education and health, but is also famous for fighting for te reo.
She made headlines in 1984, when she successfully challenged the Post Office over her right to use the greeting 'Kia ora' while working as a telephone operator.
Dame Naida said that when complaints first started pouring in over her use of the phrase, the Post Office moved her to an "off-board" position and threatened to fire her.
"When it did actually hit the headlines, I got taken off the board all together and placed on the midnight shift, kia kore e taea ē te tangata te kōrero ki te "kia ora lady" i tērā wā," she said.
"It was āhua mataku, bit frightening, because I was living in a Post Office house, i tērā wa, and if I was going to be dismissed I would have been evicted as well."
While Dame Naida remained strong, she admitted there was a time when she worried that things had gone too far.
"I ahua aroha mai te rangatira ki ahau...the supervisor gave me time off to go home to a tangi, and while at the tangi of my aunt, a cousin also got killed in an accident and [the supervisor] gave me more time off. For that I thought I should ease off...me aroha atu au ki taku rangatira," she said.
"On my way back to work, driving towards the Harbour Bridge with my thoughts 'I should back off a little bit and just aroha ki taku rangatira', when this voice came to me and it was saying "nui ake tēnei take i a koe" and I knew it was the voice of my grandmother who had died in 1972."
Translated, "nui ake tēnei take i a koe" means "this is far greater than just you."
Dame Naida said those words made her understand the fight was far from over.
"I knew then that it wasn't a personal thing. It was an issue of principal. It was our reo, indigenous to this country."
She said New Zealanders must now work to keep te reo alive.
"The challenge now is to not give up on it, to make sure haere tonu te motu, kaha tonu te reo...mo āke tonu atu ki tēnei whenua ō tātou." Keep going forever in this land of ours.