Story: Ngā māngai – Māori representation

Page 4. Political alliances

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Early party politics

The first Māori MPs generally functioned as independents until the 1890s, when Māori aligned with the Liberal Party, which dominated Parliament. Māori Liberal MPs included James Carroll, Apirana Ngata and Peter Buck (Te Rangi Hīroa). Other Māori, including Māui Pōmare, were members of the Reform Party. Māori also worked across parties, giving rise to the so-called Young Māori Party grouping of Ngata, Buck, Pōmare and Carroll.

Gifts from Rātana

In 1936 T. W. Rātana, leader of the Rātana movement, placed a number of highly symbolic objects before newly elected Labour Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage: three feathers of the extinct huia bird, representing Māori culture and Māori losses; a potato and kūmara (sweet potato), representing the cultivable land Māori had lost; a piece of greenstone, representing Māori mana, which Rātana was entrusting to Savage; a broken watch that had belonged to Rātana’s ancestor, who had supported the government during the New Zealand wars but became too destitute to have it repaired; and a Rātana pin, representing the 40,000-member movement that would support Labour.

Rātana movement

In 1932 Eruera Tirikātene became the first MP to represent the Rātana religious and political movement, with instructions to support the Labour Party. Māori formed an enduring alliance with the Labour Party in 1935. The alliance had secured all four Māori seats for Labour by 1943 – a monopoly they held until 1993.

Mana Motuhake

During the 1970s Māori began questioning the value of the alliance with Labour. An opportunity to form an independent Māori party arose when Labour’s Māori affairs minister, Matiu Rata, resigned in 1980 after Labour proposed merging the Māori and Pacific Island portfolios. Rata formed the Mana Motuhake party, which stood candidates in four elections between 1981 and 1990, without success. In 1991 the party joined forces with three others to form the Alliance. In 1993 Eva Rickard headed the Mana Māori Movement, which incorporated two minor radical parties, Te Tāwharau and Piri Wiri Tua.

Close call

In the 1928 general election Eruera Tirikātene failed to win the Southern Māori seat by the narrowest of margins. At that time postal voting was allowed for general seats, but not Māori seats. This meant that Tirikātene, his family and many relatives did not vote in the election since they were working on the wheat harvest at Rātana Pā. The initial result was 198 votes each for Tirikātene and Tūiti Makitānara. The returning officer, a Pākehā, gave his casting vote to Makitānara. However, Tirikātene won the seat in a by-election in 1932, becoming the first Rātana MP.

In the 1993 election a Mana Motuhake candidate, Sandra Lee, was elected to Parliament under the Alliance banner. Alamein Kopu joined her in 1996 before leaving the Alliance and forming her own party, Mana Wahine Te Ira Tangata. In 1999 another Mana Motuhake candidate, Willie Jackson, entered Parliament. In 2002 the Alliance split, and lost all its seats in that year’s election. Mana Motuhake left the Alliance shortly afterwards.

New Zealand First

In the 1993 election Tau Henare won the Northern Māori seat for the New Zealand First Party, led by Winston Peters. In 1996, after increasing Māori dissatisfaction with Labour, New Zealand First captured all the Māori electorates. However, Labour regained the seats in 1999.

Māori Party

The Māori Party was formed in 2004 when Tariana Turia resigned from the Labour-led coalition government in protest at the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004. In 2005 Mana Motuhake and the Mana Māori Movement were deregistered by the Electoral Commission as Māori threw their support behind the Māori Party. The new party won four of the Māori electorates in 2005 and added a fifth in 2008. It failed to take all seven Māori seats, mainly because Labour MPs Nanaia Mahuta and Parekura Horomia had strong personal and tribal support in their electorates. After the 2008 election the Māori Party agreed to support the National-led government on confidence and supply, in return for policy concessions and two ministerial posts outside cabinet. Similar arrangements were made after the 2011 and 2014 elections, although in 2014 only one of the two MPs was a minister outside cabinet.

Mana Party

In 2011 Hone Harawira, the Māori Party MP for Te Tai Tokerau, resigned from the party after criticising its stance over Māori rights to the foreshore and seabed. He formed the Mana Party and resigned from Parliament. In a by-election in June 2011 he regained Te Tai Tokerau, only to lose it to Labour's Kelvin Davis at the 2014 general election. For that election Mana entered into an alliance with the Internet Party. Because Harawira lost his seat, Mana was out of Parliament.

How to cite this page:

Rawiri Taonui, 'Ngā māngai – Māori representation - Political alliances', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 1 April 2023)

Story by Rawiri Taonui, published 20 Jun 2012, reviewed & revised 15 Jul 2016