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Sad loss to New Zealand

28 July 2008

Sad loss to New Zealand

New Zealand has lost one of its strongest Maori guardians of this country's indigenous flora and fauna.

"I was deeply saddened to hear of the death of Del Wihongi after a long illness," Green Party Co-Leader Jeanette Fitzsimons said today.

"Whenever we met I was grateful to draw on her wealth of information about Maori agricultural and forest lore, but she wasn't content with that custodianship role. She was passionate in her advocacy for this country's natural heritage and history and fought to ensure future generations did not lose economic opportunities she knew could be provided by retention of Maori culture and the natural environment."

Mrs Wihongi was a leading opponent of genetic engineers who wanted to manipulate and register patents on New Zealand plants and lobbied the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification for a moratorium on GE research. She was also a spokesperson for the long-running "Wai 262" Waitangi Tribunal claim to protect cultural and intellectual heritage aspects of New Zealand indigenous flora and fauna.

She battled in social as well as environmental issues, and as a founder of the Waipareira Trust helped young Maori in Auckland take pride in themselves in a sometimes hostile urban setting, for example through links to iwi and traditional knowledge, Ms Fitzsimons said.

"Many in the Green Party like myself admired her not only for her knowledge of customary lore but because she was brave enough to take on major threats to it. That she did so with such a remarkably quiet dignity and determination was an inspiration."


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