Page 1: Biography
Rangitane and Ngati Kuia; farmer, flaxcutter, land court negotiator, politician
This biography, written by Anthony Patete, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1998.
Tuiti Makitanara (Sweet MacDonald) was born at Havelock, Marlborough, on 8 August 1874, of Rangitane, Ngati Kuia, Ngati Apa and Muaupoko descent. He was the second child and eldest son of Rina Puhipuhi Meihana and Teoti (George) MacDonald, who represented Rangitane in the 1892 Native Land Court hearings over the South Island Tenths. Rina's father was Meihana Kereopa, the son of a prominent Ngati Kuia and Ngati Apa leader, Kereopa Ngarangi, and Hana Whiro, the great-granddaughter of the chief Te Horo.
Makitanara may have attended school in Canvastown, a few miles from Havelock, but was largely self-educated. He became a convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. At the age of 14 he went farming with his father in Wairau and Queen Charlotte Sound. Later he became a flaxcutter, working at Wairau and Foxton; he subsequently joined the flaxmill union in the Manawatu district, spending 30 years in the industry. He also undertook work as a bushfeller, shearer and goldminer, and was noted for his ability at cricket and football. He married Karaitiana McGregor (Makarika) around 1889; she was the great-granddaughter of Ngati Kuia and Ngati Apa chief Tutepourangi. After the turn of the century Makitanara moved to Koputaroa, near Levin, where he farmed. He also lived at Hokio.
At an early age Makitanara became known as a Rangitane historian, assisting Elsdon Best and W. J. Elvy to gather local history. He became a member of the Arapawa District Maori Council, and also developed considerable knowledge of legislation affecting Maori land development. Like his father and brother Peter, Makitanara represented his people in the Native Land Court. In 1899 he was chosen by Rangitane to represent them in the subdivision of the Wairau Commonage land between Ngati Rarua, Ngati Toa and Rangitane. He was appointed trustee for the Rangitane reserves.
In 1908 Mere Hapareta Rore called for an inquiry into alleged misconduct by Makitanara, who had helped Rangitane to collect funds for the erection of a Mormon church on part of the Rangitane reserve. Rore objected to the church and to Makitanara burying a deceased child of his there. The Native Land Court judge Michael Gilfedder could find no wrongdoing, but recommended that a representative of interested Maori be elected to work with and keep a check on Makitanara.
In 1904 Makitanara had asked the government to assist Rangitane in the development of reserves for landless Maori in the Endeavour Inlet, but nothing seems to have eventuated. He was also involved in petitions to the government and the Native Land Court concerning the ownership of the Tarawera and Tataraakina blocks in Hawke’s Bay, and requesting the removal of restrictions on land sales there.
Education was another of Makitanara's interests. He and his brother George served on the Wairau Native School Committee from 1895; Makitanara was chairman from 1901. In 1907 he and Rewi Maaka alleged that children at the Whangarae and Okoha schools were being forced by the Anglican Church to attend religious education. The Marlborough Education Board investigated and found no such interference.
With the outbreak of the First World War Makitanara took part in recruiting Maori. He lost several nephews and one of his sons returned a permanent invalid. Because of the inadequate care and rehabilitation Maori soldiers received on their return, Makitanara later regretted his part in sending them to fight.
Makitanara became involved in politics through the labour movement. As a seasonal watersider, he possibly took part in the great strike of 1913, and was particularly scathing about Reform Party policies, seeing them as directly contrary to the Treaty of Waitangi. In 1925 he contested the Southern Maori seat, and was narrowly defeated by the incumbent, H. W. Uru. He stood for the United Party in 1928 and was elected over Eruera Tirikatene on the casting vote of the returning officer. He retained his seat and increased his majority in 1931. He also served on the Board of Maori Ethnological Research and the Maori Purposes Fund Control Board. In 1930 he was involved in drawing up a Ratana petition to give statutory recognition to the Treaty of Waitangi.
Makitanara deeply admired Apirana Ngata and believed that the success of his land development schemes would benefit not only Maori but the country as a whole. In 1930 he accompanied Ngata to various Maori settlements in the South Island, which resulted in land at Wairau, Oraka and Kawhakaputaputa being brought within the scheme. However, Makitanara and Ngata initially encountered some resistance from Ngai Tahu of Southland, who were hostile to any policy emanating from the government.
In 1925 the Native Land Court sat at Tuahiwi to determine entitlement to shares in the £354,000 awarded as compensation for H. T. Kemp’s purchase of a large area of Canterbury in 1848. Makitanara's claim for inclusion on the grounds of descent from several Ngati Mamoe hapu was vehemently opposed by Ngai Tahu elders: they believed his ancestors had not resided within the bounds of the purchase. His claim, and those of his family, were disallowed. Makitanara was, nevertheless, unremitting in appealing to Parliament to settle Ngai Tahu grievances. He was appointed to the Ngai Tahu Trust Board in 1929. On his advice, a committee was set up to assist the court to revise lists of beneficiaries and determine their respective interests.
Tuiti Makitanara died suddenly on 24 June 1932 at Hokio Beach, Levin. He had been suffering from poor health for some years. Several days later, in a Mormon service, he was buried on a hilltop family plot at Hokio. He was survived by his wife and eight children.