Two Tribes

And their two long fights

All her life, Hinerautahi Te Tau believed she was Ngāti Kahungunu. She told her 12 children they were too.

Then, one of her sons, Piri, told her: No, we are Rangitāne. Our ancestors were decisively beaten in battle by neighbouring Ngāti Kahungunu in the 1600s.

Hinerautahi bristled. She did not want to know.

But Piri faced up to his family’s history. And he fought for it.

First, a bitter battle with Ngāti Kahungunu to acknowledge Rangitāne’s very existence. And then, with the Crown, for its part in reducing the tribe to a forgotten people.

The Kneecapped



This is not right - you didn’t eat us, you didn’t kill us.
Piri Te Tau

Piri Te Tau no longer lives in Wairarapa.

After taking his Rangitāne people to the Waitangi Tribunal, he quit working for them and left his homeland.

He calls it a journey of heartache.

“It was such a difficult, testing period of my life that saw family members being totally pulled apart by themselves, including my family,” says Te Tau.

“It caused so much anguish and heartache for our people.”

During the 1970s and 1980s Te Tau, along with his elders, started reclaiming the history and cultural traditions of Rangitāne, subsumed over hundreds of years by the larger Hawke’s Bay tribe Ngāti Kahungunu and diminished through legislation by the Crown.

“Every weekend for about six years I was away at hui explaining our situation. I was shot down and knee capped but got back up,” he says.

“Man there was some ugly scenes. We never came to fisticuffs but when you see kaumatua (elders) going for it you know ‘man, this is serious’. But it came close.”

During the 1980s, the government announced Māori could access public funding if they set up formally recognised entities or rūnanga to take a claim to the Waitangi Tribunal.

So Te Tau and others started championing Rangitāne in the Wairarapa and Tararua districts. As they were doing so, the Tribunal was given the power to accept historical treaty claims between February 6, 1840 and September 21, 1992.

It was the impetus Rangitāne needed to force a split from Ngāti Kahungunu and set up as its own authority. So began the first battle of many as the two tribes fought to take control of the Tararua and Wairarapa districts.

The Conquerors

Ngāti Kahungunu


My clouded view of Kahungunu is we conquered all before us and we are the tribe of the district and always have been.
Robin Potangaroa

Robin Potangaroa was a Treaty negotiator with Ngāti Kahungunu. As each iwi negotiated its settlement terms, relations between them worsened. He claims his family was cursed by a Rangitāne leader, a serious offence amongst Māori.

He says the break away by Rangitāne was a political move motivated by money. A faction within the Kahungunu leadership split to form Rangitāne because they couldn’t get their own way in the Tararua district.

“I think Rangitāne only reinvented itself after 1986 to 1989. I have been known to say that they are a new phenomenon,” he says.

Both Potangaroa and Te Tau affiliate to Te Ore Ore Marae in Masterton. The marae is shared by both iwi, which is an unusual setup.

“When we’re on the marae at Te Ore Ore it’s not Kahungunu, it’s not Rangitāne. It’s the marae of all of our people. It doesn’t matter which tribe affiliation you say you are - we all have to uphold the mana of the marae,” says Potangaroa.

He says Kahungunu was dominant in the area 150 years before the signing of the Treaty. Both tribes fought each other in the late 1600s and early 1700s, and later intermarried.

Potangaroa argues everyone in the district understood Māori customary practices meant they’d won the right of occupation.

“So they acknowledged their whakapapa (ancestry) of Rangitāne but the mana (authority) of who they were was Kahungunu and you see it in their writings in the land court.”

The Discovery

Kua kitea


Te Tau says his intentions were to rewrite the story of Rangitāne, replacing the version told by Ngāti Kahungunu. He pressed the iwi's case for autonomy in direct conflict with his own family.

“The story that was told was Kahungunu came down and killed us all and ate us all,” says Te Tau. “After people had been told that all their lives, these are old people including my mum, it broke her heart what I was saying about being Rangitāne.”

His mum, Hinerautahi Te Tau, turns 90 next February. For all of her life and most of her 12 children’s lives, they’d identified themselves as being of Ngāti Kahungunu descent.

Inside their family home in Masterton, surrounded by her whānau, she tearfully explained the pain she felt as Rangitāne started to exert its independence.

“Well I grew up Kahungunu, we all did. I absolutely loved being Kahungunu. Then my son comes to me and says: ‘Mum we’re going to have a meeting about being Rangitāne.’ I just didn’t like it at all. I didn’t go to his meeting - I stayed home,” she says.


But when the family started checking their genealogy they realised they were descendants of both iwi, but predominantly Rangitāne.

“It’s like everything else dear, it grows on you, it did. But in my heart I still loved being Kahungunu, I did. I still do, still do.”

When she finally joined her children at marae gatherings to discuss their Treaty claim aspirations, they were met with anger.

“As they spoke it got uglier and uglier. I didn’t like it at all,” she says.

“It’s probably what changed my mind, the ugliness that came out. ‘Who are you to come up here and tell us who we are’ they said. Some of them got quite angry.”

In spite of the angst amongst the two tribes, Te Tau set up a Rangitāne trust and lodged its Treaty claim in 1990. When the Crown accepted the claim it also recognised the iwi was a legitimate entity in the region, giving Rangitāne the authority it desired.

“But of course our Kahungunu whanaunga (relations) weren’t having a bar of it. It wasn’t about us telling them who they are but allowing us to stand up and say who we were,” says Te Tau.

Two Tribes, Two Claims

E rua ngā whawhai


In 2004, Ngāti Kahungunu officially started its Treaty negotiations too.

“My worldview is Ngāti Kahungunu has been here since the 1600s and yes they did conquer the people before them who were here, who had previously conquered the previous inhabitants,” says Potangaroa.

“[Rangitāne] get a claim by virtue of the Crown taking a Treaty settlement process not from 1975 but from 1840 by showing they were still a remnant of who they were beforehand. Whether I agree with that or not, it is the right thing to do.”

If Ngāti Kahungunu was the conquering tribe recognised by the Crown as having authority in the region, shouldn’t it pay out Rangitāne to settle part of its grievance?

“No, because they are the same people as us, we have the same whakapapa. They just claim from a different tipuna,” he says. “We actually gave them the right to have a claim alongside us. I think that’s fair enough.”

With the battle for autonomy over, the next skirmish was each iwi taking on the Crown. Battle lines were drawn up during negotiations because the two iwi had overlapping claims.

The Rangitāne land area in the Tararua and Wairarapa districts is the second-largest of all Treaty claims and included the entire region Ngāti Kahungunu claimed.

The Treaty of Waitangi was never taken to the Tararua and Wairarapa districts so neither tribe signed any version of it.

But during the 19th and 20th centuries, both iwi claim they upheld the Treaty’s intentions when dealing with the Crown. They honoured article two of the Treaty giving the Crown pre-emption rights to buy Māori land first, usually in exchange for promises from the Crown.

Land, Loss

Rangitāne and The Crown


Te Tau says to their detriment, Rangitāne were a peaceful people who trusted the Crown.

The Crown sincerely apologises that it failed in its Treaty duty to protect them from being left virtually landless.
Rangitāne Deed of Settlement

“We were always welcoming to technology, to tauiwi, to visitors to Pākehā settlements and so my family ancestors, much to my chagrin, were regarded as loyalists.

“Was it misplaced loyalty? No, if the partner had done what they said they were going to do it wouldn’t have been. We trusted these pricks. We were honourable people.”

Rangitāne suffered a similar fate to other iwi across the country. Māori owners were promised prosperity and reserves for selling off their lands but the government reneged on the deals. Sometimes they were threatened into land deals or the lands were confiscated during and after the New Zealand Wars of the late 19th Century.


Instead of Māori collectively owning land, the Crown insisted the titles be split amongst a few so it was easier for them to buy the land.

In Rangitāne’s deed of settlement, the Crown says: “The cumulative effect of Crown purchasing the native land laws, public works takings, and other forms of alienation, left Rangitāne with insufficient land by 1900 to engage meaningfully with the colonial economy or to provide for their future needs in the twentieth century.”

“We were promised schools and hospitals - nothing happened,” says Te Tau.

“A lot of land ended up getting landlocked. We couldn’t get access to it. Because we couldn’t access it, we couldn’t get an income from it, we couldn’t pay our rates, they took it.”

The Crown acknowledged because of the loss of economic and cultural connections to the land, Rangitāne suffered from poverty that in turn contributed to human suffering and social ills, including educational underachievement, family violence and youth suicide today.

We’ve had murders after murders, children, deaths and I certainly believe it’s got something to do with what’s happened in the past absolutely there has to be a link.
Piri Te Tau

When Rangitāne started to research and learn more about what happened to them through colonisation, it took a heavy toll on Te Tau who started to understand his own experiences growing up in the Wairarapa.

The Crown admitted it had ignored the tribal identity of Rangitāne - even though it was clearly visible in the 19th and 20th centuries - often deferring instead to Ngāti Kahungunu.

“So we knew we were different, didn’t quite understand why we were, but we were. It definitely had something to do with the colour of our skin, that’s for sure.

“The amount of time I was told by distressed whānau, children, parents they didn’t know who the hell they were,” says Te Tau. “It was another catalyst to get me on this waka of finding out and standing up as Rangitāne.”

Today, only two per cent of the Rangitāne region is owned under a Māori land title.

At Their Wits’ End

Ngāti Kahungunu and The Crown


“The Rangitāne negotiations group was quite adamant that Rangitāne wanted its own place in the sun and they wanted their own journey and we respect that,” says Potangaroa.

But he admits being aggressive towards the negotiators from Rangitāne and the Crown to further his own tribe’s claim.

“What we had to do in order for the Crown to come to a bit of a reality check about what would make a just and durable settlement probably isn’t for the faint-hearted,” he explained.

You say some of the most unkind things to Crown officials to get your point across and you do it with venom but you hold no malice.
Robin Potangaroa

“You just do it and it ain’t a pretty sight.

“You actually have to tell them the pain and anger you feel at the ghastly pitiful thing you call a settlement and you basically give them what you’ve got left inside you because you’re fighting for your ancestors and then you’re fighting for your future as an iwi.”

In the Ngāti Kahungunu deed of settlement, the Crown acknowledges numerous breaches of trust and broken promises to Māori.

During the 1840s, Māori engaged with colonisation and settlement on equal terms by leasing their lands to move stock around. But the Crown warned Māori it would no longer be tolerated and they must sell their lands to them instead.

In Wairarapa, Ngāti Kahungunu was told if they did not sell up, the Crown would remove settlers from the region.

In 1845, the Crown assumed wrongdoing and took tens of thousands of acres by forcing Māori to cede the land with threats of armed violence.

The Crown admitted buying lands cheaply and on selling them for a profit to settlers.

Between August 1853 and February 1854, over half of Ngāti Kahungunu lands were sold to the Crown who’d paid a miserly 4 pence an acre.

By 1865, the Crown had acquired about two-thirds of the Wairarapa and Tararua districts.

This severely affected the cultural and economic wellbeing of Ngāti Kahungunu. On record, a Crown official described the people as being in a “helpless state of debt and poverty” and “so much in debt and so completely out of credit that they are completely at their wits’ end to get money.” Māori were selling their lands just to pay for medical expenses.

Numerous complaints were made to Crown officials but rarely was there a just outcome for Māori.

The Deed of Settlement states: “The significant land loss, and fragmentation of remaining land, along with the lack of access to capital for development, made it increasingly difficult for Ngāti Kahungunu to support whānau and the community as a whole.”

The cumulative effect of Crown purchasing, the operation and impact of the native land laws, and public works takings left Ngāti Kahungunu virtually landless by 1900. Many who remained in rural areas suffered extreme poverty.

The Crown offered a profound apology to Ngāti Kahungunu in March this year.

These actions caused real and lasting prejudice to Ngāti Kahungunu, undermining their economic, social and cultural development.
Ngāti Kahungunu Deed of Settlement

Of the millions of acres Māori owned prior to 1840 in the Tararua and Wairarapa districts, today just 22,500 acres across 30 reserves remain in Ngāti Kahungunu ownership - 80 per cent being in one reserve near Castlepoint.

The Lake Made Low

Kua kore ki Wairarapa


One of the losses felt most deeply by both tribes was at Lake Wairarapa and its feeder Lake Ōnoke, a culturally significant and rich food source enjoyed by Māori for nearly a thousand years.

A tradition called the hinurangi was a seasonal event when the natural flow of the ocean and lakes would flood trapping tonnes of tuna or eels. Māori from all over the region would travel to the lake to collect the food they’d use to sustain them, trade or koha/gift to others.

But tensions rose over the flooding when the Crown bought some blocks around the lake and on sold them to settler farmers. They wanted the spit permanently opened to drain the lakes and reduce flooding.

Settlers and Māori asked the government for a solution but it took decades for anything to be formally established. Despite a Commission making recommendations for compensation and flooding solutions, the Crown ignored them.

“When we gifted the lake in 1896 the Crown was meant to set aside reserves around the lake because they wanted to channel the lake more,” Potangaroa says.

“Later on, everyone found out those reserves the Crown set aside went to Pākehā farmers.”

To make up for failing to keep their promise by selling off the Māori reserves, the Crown offered them land north of Taupō, where they had no cultural ties.

“It wasn’t until 1951 our people went there and lo and behold found the Ministry of Works there who’d taken part of their land to start building a dam,” says Potangaroa.

“We’ve got whānau in Mangakino today who are Wairarapa people.”

They’re now laying a claim against the Crown for damming the reserved land promised to them over a hundred years ago. The case will be heard later this year.

“Culturally Lake Wairarapa was the food basket for the iwi of Rangitāne and its hapū and still is to this day,” says Te Tau. “Dad used to bring us down here specifically to go floundering and eeling on this lake.”

Both tribes have been given authority over the lake through their negotiations with the Crown. Ngāti Kahungunu was given a substantial amount of land reserves too.

“Māori are going to have 50 per cent of the say on how Lake Wairarapa gets cleaned up,” says Potangaroa.

“So there’s going to be a 10-member board called the Wairarapa Moana statutory board and five representatives are iwi. Four will be Ngāti Kahungunu and one will be from the Tu Mai Ra Trust, which is Rāngitāne.”

Rangitāne were only given a 10 per cent stake in the lake, whereas Ngāti Kahungunu received 40 per cent. Te Tau says the percentage is irrelevant.

“Really it’s more important we have a foot in the door and we’re able to have a significant influence in the operations, the kaitiakitanga (guardianship) of this lake,” says Te Tau.

Lake Wairarapa remains unnaturally low today because of human intervention.

The Redress

Te whakaoranga


Warts and all, the Treaty process helped us achieve what we wanted to achieve in a lot shorter time. If we hadn’t of had that platform we’d still be banging our heads against the wall.
Piri Te Tau

It took 26 years for Rangitāne to end its negotiations with the Crown. When the final signature was penned on the Deed of Settlement in 2016, it ended a long drawn out battle with the iwi's Ngāti Kahungunu relations and the government.

Collectively, the two tribes received $125.5m: Rangitāne $32.5m and Ngāti Kahungunu $93m. Each was given cultural and commercial redress and an official Crown apology for historical breaches.

The Ngāti Kahungunu settlement was substantially larger for two reasons: the Crown had always acknowledged its status in the region, and the iwi has 12,000 members compared to Rangitāne’s 3000.

If a person can trace their genealogy to either tribe, they’re entitled to register as beneficiaries and can tap into both iwi.

“I’m Kahungunu too and proud of it,” says Piri Te Tau. “But there’s another part of me that’s just as proud and I can stand on both sides. It enhances who we are in the Wairarapa.”


For Piri’s sister Tina Te Tau Brightwell, the chairperson of Rangitāne o Wairarapa, it was the agreed historical account she cared about.

“It means we get to finally tell our story and our story will live forever,” she says. “It’s probably what we fought for in the first place.”

She cried discussing the journey the Te Tau whānau had taken to uplift and gain authority for Rangitāne. When they first started, she was a young mum - now she has grandchildren.

“We’ve withstood the fight, withstood all the raruraru, withstood the hate. There was a lot of hate especially towards my brother from our own whānau, extended whānau, but we withstood that,” she says.

The ink had barely dried on the deeds of settlement for both iwi when local investors started knocking on their office doors.

Leaders from both tribes understand they now have a strong political voice and a role in the economic development of the region but will focus on their own people first.

“When I go out to meet with our Pākehā business people or with our district councils or whoever my words to them is don’t rely on us and our dollar that is compensation,” says Te Tau Brightwell.

So don’t think you can come to us for a handout.
Tina Te Tau Brightwell

They all dismiss critics who say the money should be spent on social services for Māori.

“This x amount of dollars is 150 odd years of bulls... from you white fullas now you expect us to turn it around overnight? Dream on,” says Piri Te Tau.

“A lot of them are saying all these kids are in care, all these people in jail - what’s the iwi doing about that? My response is your system put them in there, your system needs to pay for it.”

Part of the Ngāti Kahungunu settlement includes a social accord to work alongside government social services in the region.

“We’re not here to pay for the sins of colonisation. We’re here to grow the asset base of our people,” says Potangaroa. “The Crown shouldn’t obfuscate its responsibility in Article 3.”

“We believe that we have our own destiny in our hands but we want to talk to those Crown agencies eye to eye,” says Potangaroa.

The Winner

Ko te toa


So how will the two tribes work together in the future?

“In settlement process, they were quite adamant they wanted to do their own thing [and] effectively be rid of us. So we say good luck,” says Potangaroa, before whispering: “Because I know who’s going to win.”

Potangaroa says he wants Kahungunu to be a “young vibrant group of leaders”.

“That means people like me having a use-by date sooner than most.”

It’s a sentiment shared by Piri Te Tau.

“Whether we like it or not, it is the next generation’s turn. They do have the education and they do have the drive to do what the rest of us have done in our own way, in our own era,” he says.

“The most important thing for me was we told our story, it was put before the Waitangi Tribunal and it’s now in a report.”

Te Tau Brightwell was tearful thanking her brother for all he’d done.

“I also acknowledge the journey he’s been on, it hasn’t been an easy one and we nearly lost him a few times because of it,” she says.

“We had to let him go because of it, to allow him to heal. But we’ve always kept the waka and his hoe (paddle) ready for him for when he comes home.”

Piri Te Tau isn’t ready to return to Wairarapa just yet but has been looking at properties in the district. He says he’d love a job being the caretaker of Te Ore Ore Marae in Masterton.

“My part in the uplifting of Rangitāne is done and now it’s the next generation coming along and they’re stepping up. They’ll find their way, they’ll get up, get knocked down but that’s part and parcel of working for your iwi.” He laughed heartily.

Now, that it’s been legislated it can’t be changed. For me we’ve won.
Piri Te Tau

WORDS Carmen Parahi | VISUALS Ross Giblin
EDITOR John Hartevelt | DESIGN & LAYOUT Suyeon Son

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