Tuaiwa Rickard, known in her public life as Eva Rickard, was an influential figure in the Māori land rights movement from the 1970s to the 1990s. She showed courage and determination in negotiating the return of Te Kōpua to her people, and fought for increased Māori representation in Parliament and a variety of other indigenous rights causes both in New Zealand and overseas. She also acted in films and ran several businesses and community groups.
Tuaiwa Hautai Kereopa was born at Te Kōpua, Whāingaroa (Raglan) on 19 April 1925, the eighth of 15 children born to Riria Rāpana and her husband, Honehone Kereopa. Riria was the only child of Wētini Rāpana (who escaped after the battle of Rangiriri) and Rangiaukaha Kawharu of Ngāti Koata and Ngāti Toa. Honehone was the son of Haami Kereopa of Tainui and Rina Te Mania Rawiri of Tainui and Taranaki descent. Tuiawa belonged to the Tainui hapū of Whāingaroa, referred to during the land struggle of later decades as Tainui Āwhiro.
From the age of five Tuaiwa attended Raglan Primary School to learn ‘Pākehā ways’; speaking te reo Māori was forbidden, so she learnt to leave her Māori language at the gate.1 She was given the English name ‘Eva’, which she regarded as her ‘slave’ name. She progressed to Raglan District High School after her grandmother bartered kūmara for a school uniform and shoes. On her first day there she was ridiculed by the other students for wearing high heels; this upset her, but made her determined to prove she could succeed in the Pākehā world. In addition to the standard curriculum, Tuaiwa studied French, Latin, book-keeping and shorthand-typing. A keen sportswoman, she excelled at basketball (as netball was then known) and swimming, and was one of the first Māori students at the school to complete her public service examinations.
In September 1941, the government took 88 acres of Tainui Āwhiro land for use as an emergency airfield during the Second World War. The land, known as Te Kōpua, was the hapu papakāinga (home base). Tuaiwa witnessed the community being displaced from their homes, which were destroyed along with their wharenui (meeting house), Miria Te Kakara. The loss of this land was the catalyst for her land rights campaigns of later decades.
In 1942, Tuaiwa was manpowered out of school to support the war effort. She joined the New Zealand Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps and, though well-qualified to undertake secretarial work, was sent to a munitions factory at Hopuhopu, near Ngāruawāhia, to make bullets in an underground bunker. She was later transferred back to Whāingaroa to work in a convalescent home for soldiers until the end of the war.
After the war Tuaiwa joined the staff of the Raglan Post Office, where she met James (Tex) Rickard. Tex had been manpowered from Rangitukia, a small settlement on the East Coast, into Post and Telegraph offices in Tikitiki, Tāneatua, Cambridge, and finally Raglan. On 11 July 1947, Tuaiwa and Tex married at St Paul’s Methodist Church in Hamilton. In her later life Tuaiwa adopted her maiden name, Kereopa, as an additional middle name. Tuaiwa and Tex raised nine children (one of whom died in infancy) and many whāngai, while working full-time to provide for their family’s daily needs and finance their education.
Throughout the 1950s Tuaiwa and Tex were active in the Raglan community. They organised field days, concerts and other fundraising activities to support worthy causes, such as building Poihākena marae, with the co-operation and generosity of a few community members, to replace the lost wharenui, Miria Te Kakara. During the 1960s and 1970s Tuaiwa served as a member of the local Red Cross Society, Plunket and the Raglan Domain Board, as well as school and marae committees. She taught kapa haka and was a founding member of both the Raglan Surf Lifeguard Patrol and the local branch of the St John Ambulance Brigade.
Alongside her social and cultural activities, Tuaiwa clashed with the Raglan County Council over Māori land, rates and environmental issues affecting Whāingaroa. She was particularly concerned with the construction of a wastewater treatment pond on a wāhi tapu, a short distance from the marae and food-gathering area. Kaumātua attributed several drownings near the harbour entrance to this desecration.
In 1972 Tuaiwa began petitioning the government for the return of Te Kōpua, which was supposed to have been returned when it was no longer required as an airstrip. The war had ended nearly 30 years earlier, but instead of returning the land the government had vested it in the Raglan County Council – which in turn had leased it to the Raglan Golf Club as a nine-hole course. Tuaiwa had joined the club and was responsible for the establishment of the Raglan Māori golf tournament; at the same time, she opposed the expansion of the course over ancestral burial grounds. Her early efforts went largely unheeded by the government, but her campaigning brought her into the public spotlight as a land rights activist. She joined the Māori Land March in 1975 and later played a pivotal role in the establishment of the land rights organisation Te Matakite o Aotearoa, which supported her cause.
In 1976, Tuaiwa and members of Tainui Āwhiro and Te Matakite o Aotearoa fenced off the urupā on the golf course, and performed karakia to protest the desecration of tapu. In 1978 Tuaiwa invited tohunga and supporters from across the country to gather at the Te Kōpua urupā, where a ceremony would be performed on the day of the golf club’s annual tournament. Before the ceremony could take place, Tuaiwa and 16 other activists were arrested for trespass. This incident became the defining moment for Tuaiwa in the struggle to get Te Kōpua returned.
On 30 November 1983, after numerous court cases and negotiations, Te Kōpua (excluding the airfield itself) was returned with conditions. Tuaiwa refused to compromise her principles and settle, but in 1991, when the Crown withdrew its demand for payment for the land, the property was finally vested in the Te Kōpua Trust.
Tuaiwa’s activism gradually widened its scope and in 1979 she resigned from the Raglan Post Office to focus not only on Te Kōpua, but on local and international campaigns for human rights and justice. In July 1981 she was one of the protesters who invaded Hamilton’s Rugby Park to prevent the Springboks’ match against Waikato. Later that year she represented Te Matakite o Aotearoa at the Third General Assembly of the World Council of Indigenous Peoples in Canberra. In September 1985, Tuaiwa and union leader Paul Piesse led a delegation of New Zealanders on a fact-finding mission to Nicaragua to discover the consequences of the 1979 revolution against Anastasio Somoza for the Nicaraguan people. Visiting Tahiti on her way home, she was warned that she would be deported if she spoke out against the French government. Disregarding this warning, she addressed a rally, speaking against nuclear tests and in support of Tahitian demands for independence. She was placed under house arrest before being deported and banned from re-entering French Polynesia.
Tuaiwa continued to gain prominence and in 1984 was mandated to lead the historic hīkoi from Tūrangawaewae to Waitangi. While remaining a staunch campaigner for social justice, she also saw an opportunity to use the political system as a tool for advancing Māori aspirations. When Matiu Rata left the Labour Party and formed Mana Motuhake to contest the 1981 election, Tuaiwa supported him by running as a candidate. Believing the Māori voice in Parliament should remain independent, Tuaiwa resigned from the party in 1991 after Mana Motuhake joined the Alliance Party. In 1993 she founded the Mana Māori Movement, which contested 18 list seats in the 1996 election. Mana Māori never won a seat in parliament, but Tuaiwa continued to use political platforms to campaign on social and political issues.
Well known for challenging governments, Tuaiwa was also prepared to collaborate with government agencies to create whānau- and community-based solutions to social problems. She served on committees for the ministries of Justice and Social Welfare, and was a Matua Whāngai co-ordinator for the Tainui Maori Trust Board. She secured funding for programmes to help educate the unemployed and look after whāngai children at the Kōkiri Centre at Te Kōpua.
Tuaiwa also challenged decisions made by the Raglan County Council. When the council decided to demolish the old Raglan Primary School, Tuaiwa occupied it because of its historic importance to the community. This action led to the establishment of a kōhanga reo, graphic arts courses, and a community arts centre. Other community initiatives, such as establishing a number of small business ventures, helped fund her political causes. Tuaiwa’s café and bakery, Kai Time, provided retail experience for trainees in the catering schemes run at the Kōkiri Centre.
Tuaiwa enjoyed singing, sharing stories, debating and spending time with friends and whānau. She was renowned for her charisma and ability to deliver an inspiring speech, which was always accompanied by an equally impressive song. Tuaiwa was comfortable speaking in any forum and took every opportunity to educate and enlighten others. On several occasions she also spoke on marae, including Tūrangawaewae. She created numerous garments which reflected her taste and personality. Believing in individual expression, she had a stage built at Te Kōpua and, in 1990, launched the Te Ao Mārama Festival in which young performers showcased their artistic skills. She acted in Merata Mita’s Mauri (1988), Flight of the albatross (1995), and Radio whā waho (1993). She was also sought after for comments, appearing in several documentaries including Tangata whenua: the spirits and the times will teach (1972), Te Matakite o Aotearoa (1975) and Ngā kara me ngā iwi: the flags and the people (1990). A documentary about her life, Tuaiwa Hautai Rickard (1997), was produced and directed by Tama Poata.
In her final years, Tuaiwa criticised the government’s fiscal envelope policy and the way in which treaty settlements were negotiated. She considered the process divisive, the settlements unjust, and the haste to sign obscene. Her response to the negotiators of the 1995 Waikato Raupatu Settlement was that the Tainui hapū of Whāingaroa stood outside the deal. In 1996, to protect the mana of her people, Tuaiwa reaffirmed rangatiratanga over the land by proclaiming the whenua at Whāingaroa an independent state. It was a strong political statement that showed self-determination was possible for those who asserted it.
From her humble beginnings, Tuaiwa overcame the forces of colonisation to become one of the most influential women in the Māori land rights movement. A deeply spiritual person, she lived by her principles and was astute, forthright and honest. Her eventual success in having Te Kōpua returned helped raise government awareness of Māori concerns and created a precedent for Māori assets being returned as part of treaty settlements.
She challenged New Zealanders’ social consciences, and forced both Māori and Pākehā to confront their shared history. She was a visionary with the courage to see a future that would restore mana to Māori, and possessed the determination to pursue that vision. When she was castigated and persecuted for her actions, she would always respond that ‘only dead fish swim with the current’.2
Tuaiwa died peacefully at home on 6 December 1997, aged 72, and was buried at Te Kōpua in the urupā where she had once been arrested. Flags flew during her five-day tangi, as thousands came to pay their last tributes to a leader and a wahine toa who had demonstrated courage in the face of adversity, promoted hope in the face of despair, and encouraged the next generation to imagine a future where rangatiratanga was a reality. As Moana Jackson eloquently put it, ‘At a time when many people were only slowly becoming aware of what colonisation was and is, and at a time when only the brave were prepared to speak of our sovereignty, Eva’s stand on the golf course issue was an inspiring political and cultural act. Before rangatiratanga became a T-shirt slogan, Eva was acting like a rangatira.’3 Her husband, James (Tex) Rickard, died in 2017 and was interred alongside her.
Written with Marleina Te Kanawa and Lydia Rickard.