Story: Ngā rōpū tautohetohe – Māori protest movements

Māori have a long history of fighting for their rights, over issues ranging from land loss and language revival to exclusion from rugby tours of South Africa. Acts of protest have included Hōne Heke repeatedly demolishing the Kororāreka flagstaff; Parihaka residents disrupting surveys of confiscated land, the 1975 hīkoi (land march) to Parliament, the 506-day occupation of Takaparawhau (Bastion Point) by mana whenua iwi Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei, and the occupation of Ihumātao in South Auckland.

Story by Basil Keane
Main image: Foreshore and seabed hīkoi arrives at Parliament, 2011

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Historic protests

Māori have a long history of tautohetohe (protest) and fighting for their rights.

  • Hōne Heke Pōkai cut down the flagpole on which the Union Jack flew above Kororāreka in the Bay of Islands four times in 1844–45.
  • In the 1880s protesters from Parihaka, Taranaki, disrupted surveys of confiscated land.
  • In the late 19th century Māori petitioned Parliament over land grievances, and some went to England to present these grievances to the monarch.
  • In the 1890s Māori protesters obstructed Pākehā trying to open the spit across the mouth of Lake Ōnoke in Wairarapa.

More protests emerged in the 1960s, alongside protest movements for women’s rights and against the Vietnam War.

Waitangi Day

The first Waitangi Day protest at Waitangi was organised by activist group Ngā Tamatoa in 1971. They remain a regular occurrence. In 1975 the Waitangi Tribunal was set up to investigate breaches of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

Land protests

Early land protests included petitions, land occupations and removing survey pegs. Pan-tribal movements such as the Kīngitanga (King movement) and Kotahitanga (Māori parliament movement) were set up to advocate on land issues.

In 1975 Whina Cooper led a hīkoi from Te Hāpua in the far north to Parliament to protest against land loss.

Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei occupied their lands at Takaparawhau (Bastion Point), Auckland, for 506 days in 1977–78. The land was later returned. Protesters have also occupied land at Whāingaroa (Raglan), Pākaitore (Whanganui), Ngāwhā (Bay of Islands) and Ihumātao, as well as other places.

Rugby and apartheid

In 1960 there were protests over a decision to exclude Māori players from an All Black rugby team touring South Africa. There were more protests over Māori and Pacific Island players being considered ‘honorary whites’ for the 1970 tour. Protests against the South African Springbok team’s tour of New Zealand in 1981 were the largest in the country’s history.

Cultural protests

In 1972 a petition to have the Māori language taught in schools, signed by 30,000 people, was presented to Parliament.

In 1979 a Māori group stopped University of Auckland engineering students performing a mock haka.

In the 2000s, protesters successfully attempted to have the tino rangatiratanga flag (which became the national Māori flag) flown on the Auckland Harbour Bridge.

Government proposals

Māori also protested against:

  • the 1995 ‘fiscal envelope’, which placed a cap of $1 billion on Waitangi Tribunal settlements (but was not implemented)
  • the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004, which overturned a court ruling that Māori could claim customary rights to the foreshore and seabed.
How to cite this page:

Basil Keane, 'Ngā rōpū tautohetohe – Māori protest movements', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 20 June 2024)

Story by Basil Keane, published 20 June 2012, reviewed & revised 11 January 2023