top of page

A Look Back on Mana Whenua and Crown Local Governance in Pōneke

How has local governance in Pōneke evolved over time?

Nicholson Consulting has been privileged to be involved with pieces of mahi aimed at strengthening the relationship between local Council and mana whenua.

Our Analytics Lead Sally Hett and former Analytics Lead Dani Lucas wrote an informative article that was published in the Spring 2023 IPANZ Public Sector Journal. The piece takes a look back on mana whenua and Crown local governance in Pōneke, and encourages readers to consider the historical context when making decisions today.

With permission, we have shared the full article below. If you'd like to discuss the piece or our approach to monitoring, research and evaluation mahi at Nicholson Consulting, don't hesitate to get in touch!

(You can also check out the IPANZ Public Sector Journal Spring 2023 here)

A Look Back on Mana Whenua and Crown Local Governance in Pōneke

“Greater interrogation of the whakapapa of local government” forms part of a recommendation from He Piki Tūranga, He Piki Kōtuku, the newly released report of the Future for Local Government review panel. The key message is this: understanding the history of each region is critical to rectifying past grievances. Through remembering, we can move towards the vision we aspire to.

To work towards this recommendation, Sally Hett and Dani Lucas, with input from Annie Te One, briefly explore the way that the local governance landscape in Pōneke Wellington evolved, and led to mana whenua and Wellington City Council working towards a partnership.

This article is largely based on the theses of Annie Te One, Mana Whenua, Mātaawaka, and Local Government—An Examination of Relationships Between Māori and Local Government in Wellington and the Hutt Valley (The Australian National University), and Dani Lucas, Partnering or Prohibiting: Do Māori Wards and Constituencies Provide Fair and Effective Representation to Tangata Māori (Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington), and the work of Sally Hett from Nicholson Consulting.


In Aotearoa New Zealand, councils and mana whenua must work closely together to achieve the vision for a given city, district, or region. Te Kaunihera o Pōneke (Wellington City Council) and mana whenua (currently Ngāti Toa Rangatira, Te Āti Awa and Taranaki Whānui) have co-created a vision, shared in their Tūpiki Ora Māori Strategy, for Pōneke to be a place where our environment is nourished, the wellbeing of our whānau is fostered, and te ao Māori is celebrated and embraced. This vision is supported by the signed strategic partnership agreement between the Council and mana whenua (called Tākai Here). It’s important to understand that this partnership is progressing the relationship in terms of kāwangatanga, not tino rangatiratanga which is self-determination outside the Crown’s involvement as discussed in Matike Mai.

Despite being Tiriti partners, the council and mana whenua have not always worked together in the kāwangatanga space. The beginnings of British-informed local government caused displacement and disruption to mana whenua forms of governance and excluded Māori from governance decisions.

Evolving mana whenua governance in Pōneke

Iwi have robust and sophisticated systems for establishing local governance which reflect the importance of responsibility, whakapapa, and relationships. Being recognised as mana whenua acknowledges the authority of iwi and hapū over the land or rohe to assert local rules and institutions – their kawa and tikanga – that governed how to interact with others, and the environment. Over time, mana whenua in Pōneke have changed.

For example, Te Āti and Taranaki Whānui migrated over 300 kilometres from Taranaki to Pōneke in the 1820s and 1830s. These complex migrations (known as hekengā) were enabled by alliances and relationships between iwi. By 1840, ngā iwi o Taranaki had become mana whenua in Pōneke and established forms of local governance. However, with the arrival of Pākehā, that was soon challenged.

Displacement caused by Pākehā-imposed local governance

Pākehā started arriving in Pōneke, uninvited, from around 1839. With them came significant disruptions to the political landscape, which saw British-informed local governance displace mana whenua.

According to the Waitangi Tribunal Report of 2003, The New Zealand Company bought land near the Hutt River to sell land to British immigrants in 1839, known as the Port Nicholson Deed. Then in 1840 the New Zealand Company moved the settlement to the shores of Lambton Harbour, even though the Māori communities of Te Aro, Kumototo, and Pipitea, who lived there, had not been party to the earlier land purchases. No maps or boundaries were drawn and written agreements were a new and less understood tool for creating alliances for Māori.

“When Māori signed the Port Nicholson Deed, they did not believe that it would impede their rights as the mana whenua in the area,” says Annie. They saw it as another alliance and relationship between two peoples. In reality, it was the wedge that unrightfully opened the door for the Pākehā-led local government to displace mana whenua forms of governance.

The transfer of local power happened quickly once Pākehā arrived. The New Zealand Company allocated almost 99,990 acres of land to would-be settlers and left 11,110 acres for Māori reserves. With plenty of promised land to settlers, numbers increased, and by 1843 had reached approximately 4000. To provide law and order for these incoming settlers, the New Zealand Company set up the initial British informed local government in March 1840, without a mandate from the British Crown or agreement by mana whenua. This initial council developed a ‘Provincial Constitution’ which embodied the reality that, initially, settlers relied on having positive relationships with Māori. That reality shifted as settlers “were better able to independently navigate the lay of the land.” Changes around who was on the land, and how the land was managed, and what it was called, began to erode mana whenua governance, as did competing structures of local governance.

The British Crown endorsed the new Municipal Council for the Borough of Wellington in May 1842. As a Municipal Council, the Borough could establish taxes, impose new land boundaries, create new election wards, and adopt “a general refusal to understand the Māori governing values, rules, and laws already set in place,” says Annie. These were key tools used to intentionally displace mana whenua local governance as the success of Pākehā local government was predicated on the demise of Māori ways of governing.

One example of this is the ‘raupō tax’. The Raupō Houses Act, enacted in 1842, discouraged building houses out of raupō, the common material used for Māori whare at the time, as it was considered a flammable material and a perceived risk to town planning and safety. The tax was an annual payment of £20 on every building constructed using raupō, nikau, toetoe, wiwi, kakaho, straw, or thatch of any description or a £100 fine for new buildings using those materials. The timing of this Act is not a coincidence, but a tool to drive out Māori in Wellington.

The relationships and mechanism for decision-making must continue to evolve to reflect an equal partnership.

This discriminatory legislation, coupled with disease, deteriorating living conditions, and some people returning to Taranaki to assist with warfare, led to a shrinking Māori population.

Pākehā local governance changes

The Municipal Council only lasted until September 1843. At that time, the Queen disallowed the authority of all boroughs in Aotearoa New Zealand, as they were seen to limit colonial government authority over the elected council. Wellington was then administered by the central government between 1843 and 1863 as part of the Southern Division, the Province of New Munster, and then the Wellington Province. In 1862, the Wellington Town Board was established. A lot of change in 20 years.

However, a lot more change happened to get to the council structure we have today. The Wellington Board of Works then replaced the Wellington Town Board in 1866, expanding its powers. The Wellington City Corporation replaced the Wellington Board of Works in 1870, and in 1974, the Wellington City Corporation was constituted under the Local Government Act. The Wellington City Council we know today then replaced the Wellington City Corporate under the Local Government Amendment (No.3) Act in 1977.

These rapid legislative changes impacted Te mana whenu authority in many ways and largely ignored Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Firstly, they happened with limited mana whenua involvement despite iwi, hapū, and Māori being “large owners of land, service providers, holders of knowledge, employers, and protectors of ecosystems,” says Dani in her thesis. This largely ignored Māori having the right to be part of local decision-making through tikanga and Te Tiriti o Waitangi, which are recognised in both international and domestic law. Secondly, it impeded the ability for mana whenua to govern their own lands by unilaterally expanding the council’s powers and confiscating land. All these historical changes still impact how local government operates today.

These rapid legislative changes impacted mana whenua authority in many ways and largely ignored Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

These changes also failed to adequately incorporate Te Tiriti. Since 1842, councils have been uncertain and unwilling to honour Te Tiriti in local government and meet their co-governing responsibilities. Te Tiriti responsibilities are important for local governments and entrenched in the Resource Management Act 1991 and the Local Government Act 2002. The legislation doesn’t go far enough, only referencing the principles of the treaty, but they are pivotal catalysts of change that nudged us to where we are today.

Where to from here?

There is much work to undo the damage done by these successive pieces of legislation. This includes creating legislation that reflects the articles of Te Tiriti (not only the principles) and adopting ways to apply those laws to everyday decisions by Council. It is a combination of domestic law, international law, and tikanga that should ensure mana whenua are in partnership with the kāwangatanga while being able to exercise tino rangatiratanga. Matike Mai Aotearoa (and its report published in 2016) is the mahi of the Independent Working Group on Constitutional Transformation, established by the Iwi Chairs’ Forum in 2010. Their task was to develop and implement a new constitutional model for Aotearoa New Zealand. The work of Matike Mai makes it clear that the current approach to partnership assumes the Crown will remain the dominant partner as mana whenua are invited to work and contribute in colonial governing processes and ways of working. This should not be the case. The relationships and mechanism for decision-making must continue to evolve to reflect an equal partnership. We look forward to that happening.

Note from the authors: We sought to write this high-level summary so others will have this knowledge to inform how they, too, make decisions. In the words of Annie Te One, any “efforts to address Māori and local government relationships today must be understood within the context of this historical process of displacement and disruption”. At Nicholson Consulting, we’re grateful to have been a part of what we hope will be a continuous improvement journey for councils working with mana whenua.

Sally is tangata tiriti with a connection to Pōneke and the Kapiti Coast. She works as an Analytics Lead at Nicholson Consulting and is privileged to be part of a team supporting WCC with the monitoring and reporting framework for the mana whenua agreement, Tākai Here.

Dani is a Researcher of Ngāti Ranginui, Ngāti Raukawa, and English descent. While completing her masters degree she focused on different forms of representation for Māori at local government, and while working at Nicholson Consulting she was honoured to help create the monitoring framework for Tūpiki Ora.


Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page