Tuiti Makitānara (Sweet MacDonald) was born at Havelock, Marlborough, on 8 August 1874, of Rangitāne, Ngāti Kuia, Ngāti Apa and Muaūpoko descent. He was the second child and eldest son of Rina Puhipuhi Meihana and Teoti (George) MacDonald, who represented Rangitāne in the 1892 Native Land Court hearings over the South Island Tenths. Rina's father was Meihana Kereopa, the son of a prominent Ngāti Kuia and Ngāti Apa leader, Kereopa Ngārangi, and Hana Whiro, the great-granddaughter of the chief Te Horo.
Makitānara 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 Manawatū 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 Ngāti Kuia and Ngāti Apa chief Tūtepourangi. After the turn of the century Makitānara moved to Kōputaroa, near Levin, where he farmed. He also lived at Hōkio.
At an early age Makitānara became known as a Rangitāne historian, assisting Elsdon Best and W. J. Elvy to gather local history. He became a member of the Arapawa District Māori Council, and also developed considerable knowledge of legislation affecting Māori land development. Like his father and brother Peter, Makitānara represented his people in the Native Land Court. In 1899 he was chosen by Rangitāne to represent them in the subdivision of the Wairau Commonage land between Ngāti Rārua, Ngāti Toa and Rangitāne. He was appointed trustee for the Rangitāne reserves.
In 1908 Mere Hapareta Rore called for an inquiry into alleged misconduct by Makitānara, who had helped Rangitāne to collect funds for the erection of a Mormon church on part of the Rangitāne reserve. Rore objected to the church and to Makitānara 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 Māori be elected to work with and keep a check on Makitānara.
In 1904 Makitānara had asked the government to assist Rangitāne in the development of reserves for landless Māori 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 Tātara-ā-kina blocks in Hawke’s Bay, and requesting the removal of restrictions on land sales there.
Education was another of Makitānara's interests. He and his brother George served on the Wairau Native School Committee from 1895; Makitānara was chairman from 1901. In 1907 he and Rewi Maaka alleged that children at the Whangarae and Ōkoha 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 Makitānara took part in recruiting Māori. He lost several nephews and one of his sons returned a permanent invalid. Because of the inadequate care and rehabilitation Māori soldiers received on their return, Makitānara later regretted his part in sending them to fight.
Makitānara 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 Māori seat, and was narrowly defeated by the incumbent, H. W. Uru. He stood for the United Party in 1928 and was elected over Eruera Tirikātene 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 Māori Ethnological Research and the Māori Purposes Fund Control Board. In 1930 he was involved in drawing up a Rātana petition to give statutory recognition to the Treaty of Waitangi.
Makitānara deeply admired Apirana Ngata and believed that the success of his land development schemes would benefit not only Māori but the country as a whole. In 1930 he accompanied Ngata to various Māori settlements in the South Island, which resulted in land at Wairau, Ōraka and Kāwhakaputaputa being brought within the scheme. However, Makitānara and Ngata initially encountered some resistance from Ngāi 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. Makitānara's claim for inclusion on the grounds of descent from several Ngāti Mamoe hapū was vehemently opposed by Ngāi Tahu elders: they believed his ancestors had not resided within the bounds of the purchase. His claim, and those of his family, were disallowed. Makitānara was, nevertheless, unremitting in appealing to Parliament to settle Ngāi Tahu grievances. He was appointed to the Ngāi 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 Makitānara died suddenly on 24 June 1932 at Hōkio 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 Hōkio. He was survived by his wife and eight children.