Dame June Jackson with her mokopuna Te Aria Jackson (left) and Te Waiora Iti (right). Image: supplied

The incredible legacy of Dame June Jackson

For decades she stood up for urban Māori and provided services to a community that was often overlooked. Close friends and family celebrate the life of Dame Temuranga “June” Batley-Jackson.

A lot is made of understanding the Treaty of Waitangi as a living document.

The Waitangi Tribunal explains the concept by outlining how Te Tiriti ‘speaks’ to Māori. Put simply, it says that the principles of Te Tiriti should be applied so that all Māori – whether they exist in 1840 or in 2019 – understand and recognise the role and contribution it has in their lives.

Broad as that may be, Treaty claims and settlements stem from that understanding. But, as we’ve seen over the years, interpretation of that concept, and the resulting claim outcomes, differ vastly between cases.

So what happens when someone stands up and points out that the system, which is designed to redress Treaty grievances, glosses over the needs of a significant number of Māori?

As Dame Temuranga “June” Batley-Jackson (Ngāti Maniapoto) found, someone was going to have to carve out a space for those like her, who moved away from their ancestral rohe and into cities, and challenge for funding and resources. And it may as well be her.

Born Temuranga Batley to King Country farmers Huinga and Barney in 1939, Dame June (the name she was given by teachers who couldn’t pronounce Temuranga) grew up in Mahoenui, near Te Kuiti. She went on to attend high school at Hukarere College and moved to Wellington in her late teens for work. It was there she met her beloved husband Bob Jackson, a wharfie of Ngāti Porou descent. The couple, both strong community leaders and ardent advocates for the rights of urban Māori, had three children, including MP and broadcaster Willie Jackson. In 1971, they moved their family north from Porirua to Māngere, South Auckland for Bob’s job, and it was there that the movement for the rights of urban Māori really took off.

Willie Jackson says his mother was an agitator at a time when Māori women were not in many leadership roles. “Mum, I think, was very special because she laid down a lot of challenges, particularly at a time when men were so dominant. She put challenges out to the [Sir Robert] Mahutas and [Sir Tipene] O’Regans in the ‘80s and’ 90s in terms of Māori in the cities. She asked about rights for Māori who had lost their way in the city, who had not reconnected back up with their iwi or their tribes. What rights did they have?’”

Dame June Jackson with her son, Labour MP and broadcaster Willie Jackson. Image: supplied

Those questions were a practical necessity, borne out of the work Dame June did in her South Auckland community. From her early working days as a cleaner, to her role as the longest-serving member of the Parole Board, Dame June’s CV covered an array of jobs over the years. Some of her lesser known roles include her work with disabled children, time as head of a security firm, a stint as a store detective and work with domestic abuse victims.

Waipareira Trust executive John Tamihere, who first came across Dame June as a student at the University of Auckland, says her “no-nonsense” approach was evident even then.

“I used to be one of the key executives in the Auckland University Student Association… back in the late 1970s and early ‘80s. I first came across her when she was running her own security firm. She used to provide security for all our functions,” he says.

“Even then, she was quite a formidable person. She was actually quite fearless and I think that’s a fair look at the type of no-nonsense approach June took to things, and about how she holds her space. I then came to know her more because I operated in the West and she was in the South.”

As Dame June and Bob worked towards improving life for their South Auckland community, her various roles and life experiences proved invaluable in organising and negotiating for better access to essential services. Honing in on initiatives that tackled poor education, health and employment, the couple, alongside other urban Māori leaders in Auckland, formed the Manukau Urban Māori Authority (MUMA) in 1986. They also acquired a space in Māngere for Ngā Whare Waatea marae, a place for urban Māori to feel welcome.

“We were looking after Māori in terms of how they looked after their families, their reconnection with their kaumātua and their health and housing,” says Willie.

“We took over those roles in South and West Auckland through MUMA and Waipareira [Trust] with no tribal funding. We’d have to get our own funding through the government, and find our own ways to support our people. The call for support for the rights of urban Māori grew stronger because here we were doing all the work, and the only people who were getting settlements were the tribes.”

The whare nui at Ngā Whare Waatea marae in Māngere. Image: Radio Waatea

In the two decades Dame June headed MUMA, she grew the organisation to become the major Māori agency in South Auckland. She oversaw the creation of a gymnasium, a credit union, a driving school, a funeral home, a food bank and a kohānga reo. The authority’s work was also recognised at a central government level, through its procurement of major government contracts in the health, restorative justice and social service areas. MUMA’s marae-based reintegration programme for whānau recently released from prison was particularly well-regarded.

As Willie recalls, his mother’s belief in rehabilitation and redemption brought a whole new meaning to ‘welcome’ at Ngā Whare Waatea marae.

“She’s right into rehab and restorative justice. She’s always believed in redemption and being able to give people a second chance. All the different crims who came out of Paremoremo, the heavyweight ones, Mum had quite a bit to do with.

“We admired her for that, although we weren’t that admiring of some of the criminals who turned up at the marae,” he says with a chuckle.

Dame Temuranga (June) Batley-Jackson receives the Insignia of a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit from then-Governor General Rt Hon Sir Anand Satyanand. Image: gg.govt.nz

As close friend Dame Naida Glavish puts it: “June’s generosity often met no bounds.”

“She would help anyone out. She wouldn’t be backwards in coming forwards to growl somebody, but then she’d still help them out. She had no tolerance at all for anyone that wasn’t pono, no time for anyone that didn’t show integrity.”

“I remember her as a keynote speaker,” she laughs. “She was so honest and forthright, you’d have to be careful about the subject you asked her to speak on and who might be in the room.”

Naida met Bob and Dame June when they sat on the Auckland District Māori Council together under the leadership of Pat Hohepa, and later Dr. Ranginui Walker.

“We met in our concern collectively about justice for Māori, education for Māori, about health for Māori, about housing for Māori. All these issues that are being talked about today, we talked about it then.”

Dame June’s evolution as a leader saw her spearhead the challenge on behalf of urban Māori for a fairer share of the Crown’s fisheries settlement. Years of litigation continued to the Privy Council in London. She was eventually appointed a Waitangi Fisheries commissioner and chair of the Te Putea Whakatupu Trust when it was formed in 2004. Te Putea is responsible for administering the $20 million fund set up specifically for urban Māori under the fisheries settlement. Six years later, in 2010 she received her damehood for services to Māori. She told the NZ Herald at the time:

“It’s no secret the tribes are the tribes and they think they’re entitled to everything. So the tribaltanga [iwi] purists and me will always have some differences but amicable ones.”

Willie, in reflecting on his mother’s life, touches on the state of affairs for urban Māori today.

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“We still haven’t got a settlement for Māori in the city, but we’ve got a lot of recognition through her initial fight, and through the years we’ve got things… we’ve got our own radio station, we’ve got our own recognition in terms of social welfare where they’ve said Māori in the cities cannot be prejudiced anymore.

“I think she was always disappointed that urban Māori didn’t get enough recognition. We’d come up with all the reasons why we deserved rights [with iwi leaders]. They would agree with it and when it came to the crunch, they’d never concede. It was always totally frustrating.

“But she always managed it well. She’d just say: ‘Never mind son, just keep at it. Keep at it’.”

This content was created in paid partnership with the National Urban Māori Authority. Learn more about our partnerships here.


National Urban Māori Authority is a collective that is influencing and advancing Māori economic and social development through strengthening and sustaining whānau success.


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