Activity: Exploring tino rangatiratanga

Discover why rangatira signed Te Tiriti.

  • To understand the importance of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, many of us need to unlearn what we have been taught to be true. Start with finding out about the place-based history of hapū and iwi in your rohe before Te Tiriti o Waitangi. You might like to look at hapū and iwi histories on Te Ara, or this simple summary from the Waitangi Tribunal, ‘Aotearoa the way it was’. You may be able to access resources at your local museum or online, or draw on existing relationships with hapū and iwi.

You may like to think about:

  • Who are the hapū and iwi of your area? What are their connections to each other and how are they separate and distinct?
  • Who are their significant rangatira both past and present?
  • What words do local history experts and mana whenua use to describe life before 1840 for hapū and iwi in your area?
  • What were some tikanga and kawa that helped people to know what was right, what was wrong?
  • How did these existing systems help hapū and iwi to thrive and live well with each other and this place?
  • Did rangatira in your area sign He Whakaputanga or Te Tiriti? Were their other agreements that hapū or iwi had signed?
  • How do mana whenua describe tino rangatiratanga and mana motuhake?
  • In 1840, there were near to 100,000 Māori and just 2,000 Pākehā. Gather and arrange 100 toothpicks, leaves, pebbles or similar, and then place two toothpicks, leaves, pebbles or similar beside it. This was the ratio of Māori to Pākehā at the signing of Te Tiriti.

  • Now organise the 100 items that represent Māori into smaller clusters, of varying sizes, each with rangatira (make these a different colour) to lead them. This now represents hapū and iwi of Aotearoa.

Once you have arranged the items, discuss:
  • What do you notice about the size of each group as a whole?

  • What do you notice about the Pākeha group? Who is looking after them and ensuring there is order?
  • What might Māori who signed Te Tiriti have been hoping for?

  • Why would hapū and iwi not give their power, full authority and independence away to Pākeha?
  • The rangatira who signed Te Tiriti o Waitangi did not voluntarily give up their tino rangatiratanga to a foreign country. This is “culturally incomprehensible”. Mana comes through whakapapa. In a Māori understanding of the world it is not possible to give this mana away.

In February 1840 the rangatira who signed Te Tiriti...did not cede their sovereignty. Rather, they agreed to a relationship in which they and the Governor were to be equal while having different roles and different spheres of influence.
– Waitangi Tribunal, 2014


  • How would you describe tino rangatiratanga to someone else?
  • What would it look like if the right of tino rangatiratanga was honoured?
  • Why is it such an important concept to understand?