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New Zealand’s indigenous Maori queen dies

Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu, the queen of New Zealand's indigenous Maori population, died Tuesday, her family announced. She was 75.
New Zealand Maori Queen Dame Te Atairangi Kaahu, listens to the speeches from the people of the Turangawaewae Marae during celebrations to mark the 40th anniversary of her coronation May 23 in Ngaruawahia, New Zealand.Wayne Drought / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu, the queen of New Zealand's indigenous Maori population, died Tuesday, her family announced. She was 75.

Te Ata was the sixth Maori sovereign, a direct descendant of a royal line that began in 1858 when the Maori responded to Britain's colonization of New Zealand by choosing a monarch of their own. The role carries only ceremonial powers but is hugely respected by most Maori.

She died at her home on central North Island surrounded by children and grandchildren, the family said.

Te Ata was the longest-serving head of the Kingitanga (King) movement, which largely was a response to continual Maori land losses as European settlers flocked to the British colony and took land from the indigenous people.

Te Ata became Maori queen in May 1966, the day her father, King Koroki Te Rata Mahuta Tawhiao, was buried. She was immediately catapulted into a role that included mixing with some of the world's most influential people.

She raised the profile of Maori overseas, acting as cultural ambassador for Maori and indigenous people and as hostess to most royal and diplomatic visitors to New Zealand, dining with dignitaries including former President Clinton and South African President Nelson Mandela.

No successor was immediately announced. The next monarch is to be chosen from among Te Ata's kin in the Kingitanga movement. Maori comprise about 540,000 of the country's 4 million people.

In May 2001, celebrating her coronation 35 years earlier, Dame Te Ata said Kingitanga had been "part of every moment, thought, dream and action. It is as much a part of me as the very air that I breathe."

"I have no doubt that in another 35 years, although many of us will be gone, the cloak of Kingitanga will still offer what it has," she said.

Worth was estimated at $5.7 million
She was granted the Order of New Zealand, the nation's highest civilian honor, in 1987 and was identified as New Zealand's wealthiest Maori 12 years later, her worth estimated at $5.7 million.

In February 2005, Te Ata was admitted to Waikato Hospital for surgery for kidney stones. She began dialysis treatment for diabetes earlier this year.

She looked frail and tired at the end of weeklong celebrations marking the 40th anniversary of her coronation in May 2006, and within weeks she was hospitalized, suffering fatigue and frail from diabetes.

Funeral plans were not immediately announced, but Maori sovereigns are traditionally buried on Taupiri Mountain, near the settlement at Ngaruawahia.

Te Ata is survived by her husband Whatumoana Paki, two sons and five daughters.