Rangatiratanga has become a political word, when really it’s a way of being, writes lawyer Dayle Takitimu. (Photo: Nikau Hindin)

Dayle Takitimu delivered a powerful kōrero during the opening proceedings at the hui ā-motu at Tūrangawaewae last month, challenging the coalition government’s attempts to rewrite the relationship between iwi and the Crown.

 Dayle is a Treaty lawyer and a long-standing advocate for Indigenous and environmental rights.  Here, she explains why rangatiratanga doesn’t require a political definition to be a reality.


Nā, ahakoa te hohonu o ngā kete mātauranga kua riro nei ki a mātou, me te kai kei aku ringa, he reo mokopuna tenei i mua i a koutou, ehara te reo tohunga. Engari anō, he reo anō tā te mokopuna; nā te kitenga o te mokopuna ka taea te katoa ki te mōhio me pēhea te oranga o te iwi kei te haeretonumai. I te ngākau whakaiti ka tukuna ahau enei kupu kōrero.

I’ve come to think about rangatiratanga as ever-present. We sometimes talk about it as a destination we want to reach, without realising that it sits within us. All day, every day. It is within our veins, and it is within every cell we have, particularly if you hark back to whakataukī, waiata and mōteatea that have been left to demonstrate that for us.

He kākano ahau i ruia mai nā Rangiātea is a brilliant reminder that within each of us, from that common mauri, we have rangatiratanga.

The issue is that the Crown and others have had the arrogance to redefine our terms. Rangatiratanga has become a noun instead of a verb. I think rangatiratanga is a verb. I think it’s a way of being. It’s a state of mind. It is not a destination. It’s not somewhere we’re going. It’s essentially a philosophy — a philosophical kupu.

However, it’s been allowed to become a political kupu, a political concept, and a legal concept. It may include shades of those things, but I think rangatiratanga is primarily a philosophical concept that we should champion.

I often tell my children about the kōrero of Chief Wilton (Willie) Littlechild of the Ermineskin Cree nation. I had a conversation with him about sovereignty/mana and self-determination/rangatiratanga. His kōrero, which had been handed on from his tīpuna, was: “If you believe it, just act as if.”

Just a few words, but his comment was quite a profound moment in our own iwi negotiations with the Crown: Don’t ask permission to be sovereign if you think you’re sovereign. Sovereigns don’t do that. If you think you have self-determination, then why are you waiting for the consent of somebody else to exercise it? Just exercise it.

I don’t think he was suggesting that this comes without a price, but that’s where I’ve got to in my thinking about rangatiratanga: that we must have the courage and the bravery to exercise it.

This discussion took place in the context of our preparing for Treaty negotiations. Negotiations have become a longstanding exercise in sitting on the opposite side of the table from people who aren’t interested in Treaty negotiations.

So we first had a strategy session with our iwi about what it was that we were doing, because you can’t just stick people at the negotiation table and say: “Go for it.” If you do that, there is no measure. And we wanted there to be a measure for what we were doing.

We looked at whether the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People would give us an adequate measure. Then our kaumātua and kuia said our mana is our measure. We wanted to know, partly because I think it’s an obsession of my generation, how to unpackage that. One of my kuia responded: “That’s the problem. We’re trying to put the package back together.”

What we were really seeking was an intergenerational strategy towards self-determination for our iwi. We wanted to know if Treaty settlements may, or may not, fit with that. After quite a lot of kōrero, we arrived at some idea of what self-determination, fully flourishing, would look like for us.

Our kuia’s involvement in that discussion was not coincidental. It was a manifestation of something that tūngane Robert Ruha describes like this:

“Our pakeke would use terms like ‘Te Kanoi o te uha’ to describe and define the feminine touch to iwi contributions as motuhake and necessary. It is a term that expresses an admiration for the strength, power and warmth of touch that is uniquely of te ira tapu wahine, heke iho mai i ngā kawai whakapapa, and being wielded like a boss in our time. Overlooked in Pākehā society but revered by us as the missing but necessary ingredient that, regardless of quantity, great or small, is absolutely necessary.”

We had issues with the concept of settlement, and this is part of what Willie Littlechild was talking about with his “act as if” kōrero. We wanted our Treaty implemented. We wanted the Crown to honourably implement the Treaty. We felt that, from there, we’d be able to realign what had become a dysfunctional relationship. But what they were offering was the entrenchment of the dysfunction.

So, in the “piecing back together” of ourselves, we think that each of us as a people is distinct and has been placed on this earth for a reason. That is the central ngako of the philosophy underpinning our understanding of our mana. If we didn’t believe that, we’d believe in defeat and we’d believe in surrender.

For us, it’s not that we want rangatiratanga in order to best somebody else. It’s not that we want to say that our mana and our muscles are bigger than your mana and your muscles. It’s not a competition for us. It’s an exercise in saying that we must take our rightful place and occupy that space.

The occupation of that space underpins a whole lot of our language and a whole lot of our worldview as Māori. When we say to someone: “Tēnā koe”, it’s a recognition of the occupation of space, not just by your physical being, but by your mana and your tapu and your rangatiratanga.

Our understanding of our own mana has to be true. It can’t be interrupted by somebody else’s version of that. You get all these things — co-governance, I think, is the latest. It used to be co-management. Apparently, we’re moving up the scale, but it’s not really us. If we understand our mana, then we rest on stronger ground. It’s not just about the language behind it. It’s about the concepts that underpin the language.

A pet peeve of mine is people who use the word “lore” when referring to our tikanga and way of being. It’s like they’ve bought into the idea that somehow our ture, our law, is less than anybody else’s — that we are down there with the folktales and fairies dancing around the fireplace.

We had systems of law and we had systems of government, and we still have them. Some of them may have been dormant for a while but we need to have the courage to rely on them. We need to call truth what it is: our truth, our Indigenous truth. We must claim it and reclaim it — and keep claiming it. And we must champion it.

We also have to call rubbish what it is. We have a lot of rubbish floating within our once pure Indigenous system of knowing. Debris from the colonial fallout. We have a lot of noise. But we’re beyond survival now. We have survived. We can afford to raise the standards, to increase accountability. And we have the freedom to take our rangatiratanga out for a spin.

One of the things I’ve heard quite a lot is: “Oh, but that’s not a tikanga Māori thing, girl.” You know, sometimes it is. Sometimes, holding people to account is a tikanga Māori thing. People sometimes use tikanga as a way out of that, or they try and limit what it means to be Māori, or they try and limit what sort of legitimate expressions of rangatiratanga there can be.

That’s one of the big challenges to our ability to manifest rangatiratanga: the exclusion or the limiting or the holding too close of an idea of what is the right way — and the suggestion that we did it this way, therefore that’s rangatiratanga, but the way you’re going about it is not.

We live in our time, and we express our mana in our time, for our circumstances. I think we need to remind ourselves that we are dynamic and diverse. There are a whole lot of energies within our populations that all have legitimate expressions of their own rangatiratanga. They all have their own mana and their own tapu. Our societies used to have places for everyone, or so we’re told in so many waiata, mōteatea, and in our stories.

I think ego is one of the most detrimental things to rangatiratanga. It’s one of those things that we need to constantly keep in check. That’s because we need our leadership to be accountable, not just to us as the population in front of it or around it or supporting it, but to future generations.

Sometimes rangatiratanga and leadership get confused, and quite often we’re looking for, or calling things, leadership — or trying to identify types or styles of leadership that are from a bygone era. But that may not fit our current generation, and it may not fit future generations.

My own whakaaro on leadership is that it starts from within you. If you can exhibit an understanding of your own tapu and mana, and if you exhibit and manifest your rangatiratanga, then you might be in a space to do that for your immediate whānau, for your children, and within your house. From there, you may be able to join with other people doing that within your extended family and within your hapū, and then within your iwi.

Political rangatiratanga occurs at a more collective level, and is about systems and the distribution and fair exercise of power and authority for the common good. It’s distinct from inherent rangatiratanga exercised at a personal level.

Some people seem to want to go straight to the paepae. We call it “paepae-itis”. I think that, with rangatiratanga, there’s too much focus on rangatira, too much focus on individual people. We should champion ringaweratanga as much as we champion rangatiratanga. I come from a long, proud line of ringa raupā, or hard workers. I’m happy about that, and I’m happy to have the intergenerational calluses on our fingers to show it. I think we should champion the workers, not just the figureheads and the symbolic things.

The seeking of mātauranga is essential to rangatiratanga. Only when we humble ourselves are we able to continually seek mātauranga. In that sense, I speak specifically of the mātauranga around our mana, tapu and mauri. Those three things are so important to rangatiratanga because they position us uniquely i roto i te ao wairua, i roto hoki i te ao kikokiko.

An understanding of our mana means that we don’t undersell ourselves or our mokopuna when it comes to interacting with other people. An understanding of our tapu means that we recall our need to be inclusive of everybody who shares a common mauri with us. An understanding of mauri means that we walk not just with ourselves but with te ao tūroa and everything within the taiao. We learn or relearn to live in harmony with that world.

I’m a big fan of plugging ourselves back in to ancient knowledge. I think that, along that continuum, there’s no real new mātauranga but there’s mātauranga relevant for its time and its place. Those things will be revealed to us as we search for them, depending on the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

In our iwi, we are so wary about defining or doing that in a way that is attached to the Crown. The Crown has demonstrated over the period of five, nearly six generations, that it has no honour. It has no good faith. We can’t put the Crown on the waka with our mokopuna and allow our rangatiratanga to depend exclusively on the whims and fancies of the Crown, in their capacity as coloniser.

Instead, we’ll try to make sure that our kids have the courage and the hope to lean in to their rangatiratanga — and that we’ve given them enough tools, and got our own egos out of the way, so that they can dream. It’s in giving life to their dreams that we hope rangatiratanga for our people will manifest itself.


This kōrero from Dayle Takitimu was presented to the Waitangi Tribunal as part of the Mana Wāhine claim. It has been lightly edited and is re-published here with her permission. You can read the full brief of evidence here.

Dayle Takitimu (Te Whānau ā Apanui) co-led her iwi in Treaty negotiations, and spearheaded the development of Te Whānau ā Apanui’s Intergenerational Strategy for Self Determination. Her legal practice, Taunaki Legal, specialises in Indigenous constitutional matters. Her written work, including two anthologies of poetry, has been published internationally and translated into four languages. She is an Indigenous rights lawyer and holds a Masters of Laws (Hons) specialising in international environmental law. She is a mokopuna of Apanui and Porourangi, and māmā to three tamariki who fill her life with laughter, purpose and hope.

© E-Tangata, 2024

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