Apr 18, 2021


Maori News & Indigenous Views

Matike Mai Aotearoa: Primer on Constitutional Transformation

6 min read



Are we surviving or perishing through the operations of Parliament in these years that are passing
– Report of the Committee of Kahungunu, 1872.

Ehara taku mana i te mana hou,He mana tawhito tonu taku mana
– Te Waiata mo Ruatahuna.

The independent Constitutional Transformation Working Group Matike Mai Aotearoa – was established at a national hui that was held at HopuHopu in 2009.

It consists of members nominated by Iwi and Hapu and other organisations. It also includes people chosen for their particular expertise in tikanga and constitutional matters. Its members include

Maria Bargh (Te Arawa)

Awanui Black (Ngati Pukenga).

Michelle Cox (Ngai Tahu).

Catherine Davis (Te Rarawa).

Rikirangi Gage (Te Whanau-a-Apanui).

Bill Hamilton (Nga Rauru Kiitahi, Ngati Kahungunu).

Carwyn Jones (Ngati Kahungunu).

Ani Mikaere (Ngati Raukawa).

Selwyn Parata (Ngati Porou).

Jaroz Popata (Tainui).

Willow-Jean Prime (Te Kapotai/Ngati Hine).

Tania Rangiheuea (Te Arawa, Representing National Urban Maori Authority).

George Riley (Nga Puhi).

Hone Sadler (Nga Puhi).

Mike Smith (Nga Puhi).

Annette Sykes (Te Arawa).

Dayle Takitimu (Te Whanau-a-Apanui).

Joseph Te Rito (Rongomaiwahine).

Kukupa Tirikatene (Ngai Tahu).

Valmaine Toki (Ngapuhi, Pacific Rep on UN Forum on Indigenous Rights).

Te Rangimarie Williams (Ngai Tuhoe).

Huirangi Waikerepuru and Te Rangimarie Rose Pere Co-Chair our Kaumatua Roopu.

Veronica Tawhai (Ngati Porou) is the co-ordinator of our Rangatahi Group.

The Terms of Reference for the Working Group are

To work on developing a model for a constitution for our country based on our tikanga and fundamental values, He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Niu Tireni (the 1835 Declaration of Independence) and Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

Moana_Jackson_The Working Group first met in late 2010 and spent over twelve months undertaking research and developing its work programme. At the beginning of 2012 it began a series of meetings throughout the country to meet and discuss constitutional change with Maori and to date has held over 150 hui. Our Rangatahi Committee has organised over 50 youth wananga.

The Working Group pre-dates and is independent of the Crown Constitutional Advisory Panel.

This Primer is the first part of an information-sharing programme that the Working Group will produce. It raises a number of questions that are often asked about constitutional issues and which we invite you to join in discussing.

Moana Jackson, Margaret Mutu.
Working Group Convenor. Working Group Chair.

Some Preliminary Questions:

What is a constitution?

A constitution is the values and institutions that people choose to govern themselves.

What sorts of constitutions are there?

The most common are the constitutions that people develop whenever they form a group of some kind such as a sports club or marae committee.

Throughout history the most important have been those that a society as a whole develops so that it can govern itself collectively as a polity or nation.

Why have societies developed constitutions?

There are two main reasons.

Firstly, every society has realised that they can only maintain harmony and order if there are ideas and institutions to ensure that people can live peacefully together.

Secondly constitutions develop as a way of ensuring that the society can be politically independent and make its own decisions free of interference from others.

Are all constitutions the same then?


Every constitution is unique to the people and culture who developed it.

How are they different?

Usually in the values people have about how and why they should govern themselves.

For example in Bolivia the prime law of their new constitution is the protection of Pachamama or the Earth Mother whereas many other older constitutions were built around values such as protecting property or the divine right of kings.

Do all these constitutions have any things in common at all?


Firstly, every constitution is based around what may be called a concept of power or an idea about what constitutional authority is.

Secondly, every constitution also includes a site of power, that is the place or institution where the people actually make their governing decisions.

Thirdly, every society has declared that its constitutional power to make independent decisions was so important it could never be voluntarily ceded or given away.

For example nowhere in European history is there any evidence that say Britain ever voluntarily ceded, gave away or subordinated its authority to another polity.

What are these concepts and sites of power called?

Because they are also unique to the people and culture who developed them every society has defined them in their own way.

For example the Havasupai define their concept of power as sumaaga while in Hawaii people used the word mana which means an absolute independent authority.

In Europe the most common term for a concept of power was sovereignty.

The sites of power have different names too. For example in Britain it is Parliament, in the USA it is the Congress.

Did Iwi and Hapu have constitutions before 1840?


Like every other society Iwi and Hap? knew that harmony and order could only be maintained if there were values and institutions that helped people live together.

Did Iwi and Hapu have a concept and site of power?


For centuries the concept of power was called mana, although some Iwi and Hap? used the terms mana taketake or mana motuhake to define the absolute and independent authority to govern.

The site of power in each Iwi and Hap? was the institution of the rangatira, hence the later use of the term rangatiratanga to describe the absolute authority to govern.

Were they similar in any way to other concepts and sites of power?

Only in the sense that Iwi and Hap? also knew that constitutional power could never be voluntarily ceded or given away.

For example nowhere is there any evidence that say Ngati Kahungunu ever ceded, gave away or subordinated its constitutional authority to another Iwi or Hapu.

Were there particular ways that Iwi and Hap? constitutions were unique?


They developed out of history, tikanga and whakapapa to preserve the ability of each Iwi and Hapu to make its own independent decisions while preserving the interrelationships people had with each other.

In that sense they were like the kawa of the marae where Iwi and Hap? still independently govern affairs on the marae while forging interrelationships with visitors, except that before 1840 the marae was the whole country.

They were also like kawa because the fact that one marae would never subordinate its kawa to another reinforced the broader inalienable nature of mana and rangatiratanga.

When did this constitutional situation change?

The Crown believes it changed in 1840 when it says that Iwi and Hapu did agree to give away and subordinate their existing constitutional authority to its sovereignty.

Even though that claim was contrary to all human history (as well as our tikanga) it then established the constitutional system that it had brought from England.

So why has the Working Group been established?

There are a number of reasons.

Ever since people started coming here from somewhere else Iwi and Hap? have tried to find a constitutional arrangement that preserved their independence while seeking some sort of formal interrelationship with the Crown.

He Whakaputanga was perhaps the first such attempt. Te Tiriti o Waitangi was another, especially as Iwi and Hap? understood that it guaranteed their ongoing independence while allowing a new formal interrelationship with the Crown.

Many other debates have taken place since then, including a series of national hui called by Sir Hepi Te Heuheu in 1995 and 1996.

What does the Working Group hope to do?

The Working Group hopes to continue that debate, which is why its Terms of Reference seek a constitutional dialogue based on a different set of values as well as on tikanga, He Whakaputanga and Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

It hopes to initiate steps towards a different constitution that comes from this land and allows a proper place (a formal interrelationship) with everyone who lives here.

Is further information available?


More Primers and meeting schedules will be distributed as the hui continue.

If anyone would like particular information or to meet with members of the Working Group please contact the Working Group Secretary at [email protected]

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