Skip to main content
Logo: Te Ara - The Online Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Print all pages now.

Ngā rōpū – Māori organisations

by Basil Keane

Māori organisations represent Māori people in every area of life. Although tribal ties are always the strongest, political pressures, a powerful urge for self-determination and sometimes just having fun have brought people together across tribal groups.

19th-century Māori organisations

Tribal organisation

Traditionally Māori society was based around whānau, hapū and iwi. European settlement from the 19th century saw changes in social and political structures which led to the formation of new kinds of Māori organisations. Though new organisations appeared, in the 19th century Māori groups continued to be largely kin-based and centred around rural marae.

Pan-tribal organisations

Concern about land alienation and, later, warfare against the government led to the formation of pan-tribal organisations. In the 19th century these took the form of both political and religious movements.

Te Wakaminenga – United Tribes of New Zealand

Perhaps the earliest example of a pan-tribal Māori organisation was the United Tribes of New Zealand (Te Wakaminenga o Nu Tirene). This group was referred to in the New Zealand Declaration of Independence, Te Wakaputanga o te Rangatira o Nu Tirene.

On 28 October 1835 the British resident, James Busby, organised for a group of rangatira to sign the declaration. The group discussed meeting as a congress once a year, though this never happened. The confederation was referred to in the Treaty of Waitangi as one of the groups signing up to the treaty. In the treaty it was named Te Wakaminenga o nga Hapu o Nu Tirani (Confederation of the United Tribes of New Zealand).


The Kīngitanga, the King Movement, began in the 1850s as a response to the pressure on Māori to sell land. A number of different iwi agreed on Te Wherowhero, a Waikato chief, as the first Māori king. He became known as Pōtatau Te Wherowhero.

The New Zealand wars of the 1860s saw the Waikato tribes stripped of most of their lands, which had a devastating effect on the Kīngitanga. However, the movement continues in the 2000s.

Government-sponsored rūnanga

In the 1860s Governor George Grey attempted to establish a rūnanga system composed of eight civil commissioners and 22 resident magistrates. The first rūnanga was set up at Waimate North in 1862. The rūnanga system was more successful in the Far North than in other areas.

Religious movements

The introduction of Christianity to New Zealand in the early 19th century led to growing numbers of Māori joining churches. Soon Māori prophets created their own movements based around the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.

Te Ua Haumēne was a prophet who formed the religious movement Pai Mārire, which also had a political aspect. Followers of the movement, known widely as Hauhau, spread through the North Island as missionaries, and Pai Mārire became a pan-tribal movement.

The prophets Te Whiti-o-Rongomai and Tohu Kākahi at Parihaka also attracted pan-tribal support for their religious community.

Repudiation movement

The Repudiation movement developed among Ngāti Kahungunu of Hawke’s Bay from 1871 in an attempt to reverse unfair sales of land. It was headed by Hēnare Matua, and had its own newspaper, Te Wananga. The movement was supported by two Pākehā politicians, Henry Russell and John Sheehan.


Kotahitanga (unity) movements began to form from the 1880s. Their main purpose was to bring together tribal groups to lobby for fairer land laws. There were two kotahitanga movements in the north, among the Ngāpuhi and Ngāti Whātua tribes.

Kotahitanga came together as the Kotahitanga Parliament in the 1890s. This was a national movement with support from a number of different tribes.

New Māori organisations, early 20th century

Māori councils

In 1900 two acts were passed setting up Māori land councils and Māori councils. The purpose of the Māori land councils was to administer Māori land. There was a mix of Māori and Pākehā membership on these councils, with a Māori majority, but later the government changed this to a Pākehā majority.

The Māori councils allowed tribal members to form a council which would oversee the health and welfare of a kāinga.

Commentators have suggested that these acts were put in place to undermine the Kotahitanga Parliament and the Kīngitanga. Although these councils were tribally- or marae-based, they were government controlled.

Māori land trusts and incorporations

The continued reform of Māori land legislation saw trusts and incorporations become the most common organisations for managing Māori land. Rather than the traditional control by whānau and hapū, land was administered by structures responsible to the Māori land court.

Young Māori Party

The Young Māori Party developed from the Te Aute College Students’ Association. Its key driver was Apirana Ngata, but it had significant support initially from the principal, John Thornton. It attracted many famous members, particularly former students of Te Aute College including Ngata, Peter Buck (Te Rangi Hīroa) and Māui Pōmare. The focus of the organisation was on social and health reform using political influence in the New Zealand Parliament.

Second World War

At the start of the Second World War the Maori War Effort Organisation was formed to recruit Māori into the war. It was led by MPs Paraire Paikea and Eruera Tirikātene. Politician Apirana Ngata was also a driver of the Māori war effort and supported the formation of 28 (Maori) Battalion. The battalion’s structure acknowledged tribal connections, grouping members of tribes in related units.


After the Second World War there was extensive, rapid urbanisation of Māori. This was unplanned and occurred within one generation. In 1950, 80% of Māori were rural and 20% urban; by 1980 these figures were reversed. It was transforming for all: those who moved, those left behind and those already living in urban areas were affected.

Māori Women’s Welfare League

The Māori Women’s Welfare League held its first conference in 1951. Delegates were from welfare committees established by Māori Welfare Officers under the Māori Welfare Act 1945. The league took a key role in assisting Māori whānau, particularly with the pressures of urbanisation.

New Zealand Māori Council

The New Zealand Māori Council was established in 1962 under the Māori Welfare Act of that year. It was intended to be a nationally representative body based on a structure of committees feeding into district Māori councils, which in turn provided delegates for the national council.

The national council came into prominence, particularly from the 1980s when it won landmark cases about Māori rights under the Treaty of Waitangi in court.

Protest organisations

Activist groups

Māori commentators often say that nothing has been achieved without protest and action. Progress towards tino rangatiratanga (self-determination) has been based on this belief.

Many activist, non-kin groups emerged, including Ngā Tamatoa, the Māori Graduates Association and the Māori Organisation on Human Rights. Ngā Tamatoa, together with Te Reo Māori Society, the Wellington Māori Language Commission and others, fought using sit-ins, parliamentary petitions and claims to the Waitangi Tribunal for Māori language teaching in schools and Māori language broadcasting.

Groups protested at Waitangi that the Treaty of Waitangi was a ‘fraud’ because successive governments had allowed historic grievances about breaches of the treaty to remain unaddressed.

Te Rōpū Matakite o Aotearoa

Early in 1975, a matriarch and founding president of the Māori Women’s Welfare League, Dame Whina Cooper, led an ad hoc organisation, Te Rōpū Matakite (the group of visionaries of New Zealand), on a historic 800-kilometre march from Te Hāpua in the Far North to Parliament in Wellington. The estimated 40,000 participants demanded that no further Māori land be alienated. Later that year, the Treaty of Waitangi Act set up the Waitangi Tribunal to hear contemporary grievances against the Crown.

Ōrākei Māori Action Group

For most of 1977 and 1978, the Ōrākei Māori Action Group led a 506-day occupation of prize Auckland real estate at Takaparawhā (Bastion Point) demanding recognition of past government promises that their land would be inalienable, and that land for sale be returned to the iwi. On day 507 they were removed by a joint police-army show of strength that left an indelible imprint on community relationships.

Other (usually kin-based) organisations have been formed to occupy disputed lands, in attempts to have them returned to their Māori owners.

Waitangi Action Committee

In 1981 the Waitangi Action Committee, a coalition of Māori activists, and Pākehā organisations against racism, sexism, capitalism and government oppression, disrupted celebrations of the Treaty of Waitangi at Waitangi, and later confronted students at Auckland University who performed a disrespectful ‘haka’ as part of the university’s annual parade. This confrontation and ensuing court action was supported by conservative Māori organisations, such as the New Zealand Māori Council and Māori Women’s Welfare League. Both organisations shared a wide brief of addressing social breakdown in urban areas. Both worked to change inadequate provision for Māori health, education, housing and welfare; to reduce crime and juvenile delinquency; and to fight discrimination in employment and accommodation – but both had initially thought these aims could be attained without confrontation.

Hīkoi to Waitangi

The Waitangi Action Committee, the New Zealand Māori Council, the Māori Women’s Welfare League and two century-old Māori political organisations, Te Kotahitanga and Te Kīngitanga, organised a peaceful hīkoi (march) to Waitangi in 1984with the aim of stopping the Waitangi Day celebrations. The significance of the hīkoi was more than the numbers who marched, it was the range of organisations (from the most conservative to the most radical) who joined together to express a pressing need to honour the Treaty of Waitangi. The consequences of their action affected Māori, Pākehā and the nation’s conscience. The hīkoi, like the land march a decade earlier, raised public and political awareness.

The government subsequently amended the Treaty of Waitangi Act so that the Waitangi Tribunal could investigate historic grievances back to 1840. Hundreds of historical claims ensued.

Māori educational initiatives

Māori Education Foundation

In 1961, the head of the Maori Affairs Department, Jack Hunn, proposed an educational foundation, the Maori Education Foundation (MEF), to promote education of Māori at secondary and tertiary level. Iwi throughout the country supported the MEF and formed committees to raise funds and promote MEF’s ideals amongst hapū and whānau.

Although Māori organisations worked hard to raise money for the MEF, few Pākehā helped them, and despite funds being matched by the government’s treasury, its modest resources were soon outstripped by demand.

Te reo activism

Hunn promoted a policy of assimilation of Māori into the mainstream. His view on the limited usefulness of te reo (Māori language) was widely held by Pākehā – but not by Māori. Ngā Tamatoa and others petitioned Parliament in 1972 for te reo to be available in all schools for all pupils who wanted it, and the first group of fluent speakers of Māori were accepted into teacher-training programmes in 1975. The first of them were offered Māori language teaching positions in state secondary schools in 1976.

Kōhanga reo and kura

One initiative in language recovery sparked international interest. Kōhanga reo (language nests) were a new development in the education system. Kōhanga are pre-schools where fluent speakers of Māori provide Māori language education and care for young children.

The kōhanga movement captured Māori aspirations and within five years more than 700 kōhanga were operating, managed locally, and with a national trust. From kōhanga, young children progress to kura kaupapa Māori (Māori language immersion primary schools) or to bilingual units in mainstream schools. Kura are run by Māori for Māori (and interested Pākehā) though funded by the govenment. Kōhanga and kura introduced a Māori kaupapa to New Zealand education.

Other indigenous peoples overseas have taken up the kōhanga model and applied it to their own endangered languages, with variable outcomes.

Tertiary institutions

Te Wānanga o Raukawa (TWOR) was established in 1975 to be the focus of hapū and iwi planning, continuity and growth of three linked iwi from the lower North Island: Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Toarangatira and Te Āti Awa. But it took another Waitangi Tribunal claim before it, and two subsequent wānanga, were approved as tertiary education providers. TWOR, as a tikanga- (custom-) based institution, invoked customary practices to manage students’ behaviour, and to pass on the protocols of instruction from traditional times, including the sanctity of knowledge. TWOR pioneered marae-based studies that enable learning in hapū communities. From a very modest beginning TWOR boasted a roll of more than 1,340 fulltime-equivalent students in 2014, and an extensive academic programme offering courses from diplomas to masters’ degrees.

Two other wānanga, Te Wānanga o Aotearoa and Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi, have also grown in size and importance. They offer marae-based learning programmes, and in addition have established multiple campuses throughout the country, bringing their programmes to their clients. In 2013 Te Wānanga o Aotearoa had campuses throughout New Zealand with over 20,000 fulltime-equivalent students. It was recognised as making a valuable contribution to educating ‘second chance’ learners, attracting and retaining adult Māori into the tertiary education sector.

All three wānanga offered postgraduate degrees in the 2010s. Awanuiārangi in particular aimed to develop as the premier indigenous university, with masters and doctoral degrees in a wide range of disciplines.

Art, health and social groups

Performing arts

Renewed efforts were made to revive and sustain Māori culture in the 1970s. Since then the culture has undergone a renaissance recognised for its breadth of expression and innovation. This renaissance was propelled by Māori organisations determined to promote Māori cultural identity and values.

Culture clubs of mixed tribal composition, including Ngāti Pōneke in Wellington and Ngāti Ākarana in Auckland, and Māori church groups, flourished. Māori performing arts also burgeoned, culminating in 1972 with the establishment of the biennial kapa haka competition Te Matatini.

Other arts

Māori artists and organisations like Ngā Puna Waihanga (a national body for Māori artists and writers set up in 1973) have fostered the revival of weaving, new visual arts, theatre and creative writing. People on marae-based work-skills programmes in carving and tukutuku worked on the building and restoration of meeting houses. Traditional music-making with instruments such as pūtōrino and kōauau (flutes) has been revived, and taught, often at tertiary institutions.

Urban marae

Migrants from rural areas wanted their own marae for socialising and ceremonies like tangihanga. Urban marae-building associations with a wide range of membership were formed, and within 25 years of the urban migration, marae were built in many towns and cities. Some like Te Puea (Māngere Bridge) and Mataatua (Roturua) were iwi specific. Others were church-based, for example Te Ūnga Waka (Auckland), Hui te Rangiora (Hamilton) and Te Tātai Hono (Auckland) used religion to unify whānau from different tribes. Secular multi-tribal marae appeared too, including Hoani Waititi in Henderson, Auckland, and Ngā Hau e Whā (people of the four winds) in Christchurch.

All urban marae build on work begun by Āpirana Ngata in the 1930s, which focussed on the marae as the symbol of iwi and hapū identity.


The principles of the Treaty of Waitangi were also applied to the provision of health services.

Early initiatives came from Māori nurses who joined together to lobby for change through the Māori Nurses’ Organisation. Their efforts and the help of others resulted in government-funded health projects such as marae-based health centres and iwi-based health service delivery, organised through contracts with the Ministry of Health and area health boards. In 2016 there were over 70 registered Māori health and disability providers offering a wide range of health-care services at local level – by Māori for Māori. Ngā Ngaru Hauora o Aotearoa was the collective voice for the development of Māori health until 2014, when it was absorbed into Ngā Ngaru Rautahi o Aotearoa, the national urban Māori authority.

Social and sports organisations

Māori sports teams loosely tied into tribal, regional and national sports federations proliferated in the 20th century. Their members often played in mixed clubs too but the distinctively Māori cultural flavour and welcoming nature of kin membership has a strong pull.

In larger urban areas such sports and cultural entities are often the main focus of Māori identity for members and whānau. In the last decade of the 20th century canoe building and racing, especially waka ama (outrigger canoes), grew exponentially and spread throughout Polynesia. Waka ama became a major vehicle of Māori cultural identity for participants and supporters.

Government, tribal and economic organisations

Treaty of Waitangi

The outcome of Waitangi Tribunal reports, legal challenges based around the Treaty of Waitangi and treaty settlements has been the establishment of a number of Māori-focused organisations, both governmental and non-governmental. The Waitangi Tribunal was set up in 1975 to investigate and make recommendations to the government on grievances for breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi. From 1985 the tribunal was empowered to look at historical breaches.

The Crown Forestry Rental Trust was set up as part of an agreement between the Crown and Māori, and for a number of years funded claims for those who had forests within their rohe (district). A significant amount of the money held by the trust was returned in 2008 to a number of iwi in a deal known as ‘treelords’. Te Ohu Kaimoana had come about as part of a treaty fisheries deal which included a purchase of a share in seafood company Sealord in 1992.

Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori

Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori (the Maori Language Commission) is a government agency established in 1987 after the Waitangi Tribunal found for the claimants that te reo (the Māori language) was a taonga (treasure) which government had an obligation to protect under the Treaty of Waitangi. Te Taura Whiri is required to aid the growth and maintenance of te reo, which was made an official language of New Zealand in 1987.

Broadcasting organisations

Also at the interface between government and iwi are Māori organisations that deliver culturally relevant health, education, radio and television services on behalf of the government.

One outcome of the Waitangi Tribunal’s te reo Māori report was broadcasting opportunities for te reo.

Between 1989 and 1994, 21 iwi radio stations were set up throughout New Zealand. They were brought together by the Iwi Radio Network.

Māori Television began broadcasting in 2004. It offers programmes in te reo Māori and English and approximately 70% of the material is locally produced. A related channel, Te Reo, with programmes entirely in Māori began broadcasting in 2008. Māori Television was officially renamed Whakaata Māpri in 2022.

Urban authorities

Te Whānau o Waipareira Trust in West Auckland, founded in 1984, is one of a number of multi-tribal organisations known as urban Māori authorities. Others include the Manukau Urban Māori Authority in South Auckland, Te Rūnanga o Kirikiriroa Trust in Hamilton, Te Rūnanganui o Te Ūpoko o Te Ika in Wellington and Te Rūnanga o Ngā Maata Waka in Christchurch. These organisations play an important role in social and economic issues affecting urban Māori. They deliver education, health, employment training and other social services.


Māori interests in land are largely held in ahuwhenua trusts and Māori incorporations. A number of the larger incorporations have asset bases of tens of millions of dollars. Settlements to tribal groups saw tribal organisations controlling significant assets. In 2014 Tainui Group Holdings had $1.1 billion dollars in assets while Ngāi Tahu holdings were $1.35 billion in 2015. A number of Māori business organisations are represented by the Federation of Māori Authorities, FOMA.

External links and sources

More suggestions and sources

How to cite this page: Basil Keane, 'Ngā rōpū – Māori organisations', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 25 July 2024)

Story by Basil Keane, published 5 May 2011, updated 1 June 2017