The Māori Flag – a Symbol of Liberation and Identity

The Māori Flag – a Symbol of Liberation and Identity

“Me tupu i a wīwī me tupu i a wāwā, turia ki te wera, me piri tonu ki te korito o te rengarenga, me whakapakari ki te hua o te kawariki” Māori Marsden .

(Flourish in many places as you face the fires of adversity; cling to the heart of the rengarenga as sustenance for your soul, and to harden you for all that lies ahead of you; be like the fruit of the kawariki, small in size, large in deed, and ready to flourish in the most adverse of conditions).

There were many icons of resistance in Aotearoa during the 1970s- Ngā Tamatoa, the pou kara of the Māori Land March 1975, the Bastion Point Noho Whenua flag 1977-1978 , the Waitangi Action Committee flag 1978-1985, the Kotahitanga flag 1984.

Ngā Tamatoa logo designed by Eruera Nia.
Hikoi Whenua Māori 1975- Te Rōpu Matakite o Aotearoa
Takaparawhau- Bastion Point Flag 1977-
Waitangi Action Committee Logo- designed by Ngaromoana Raureti- Ngāti Kahungunu. 
Te Kotahitanga o Aotearoa Movement flag 1984 – designed by Norman Te Whata (Ngāpuhi).








In 1981, we saw the Aboriginal flag in Brisbane pre the Commonwealth Games- an indigenous symbol that called out to the people.  “Land Rights NOW!”  ..    “200,000 years of dreaming, 200 years of nightmares. ”

Sprinter Cathy Freeman later ignited much discussion re her victory lap with the Aboriginal flag after winning double gold at 1994 Commonwealth games.

Patu Hakaraia- Kawariki member at Waitangi 1990 Commemorations. (Ngāti Raukawa).

The idea of a national Māori flag was borrowed from the Aboriginal flag.  1989 in the lead up to the 150th commemoration of the Treaty signing- a national hui of Māori activists considered several campaigns to bring awareness to the plight of the Treaty of Waitangi and ongoing legislative abuses to Māori.  The Crown had millions of dollars to promote a wonderful co-existence with the Treaty Partner. Māori activists under the mantle of Te Kotahitanga or The Movement -had no putea.

Getting arrested was time consuming and is to be saved for special occasions. The Movement wanted to use their creative talents to promote awareness of ongoing Treaty grievances.


Ngāti Kahungunu & Ngāpuhi activists promoted kaupapa music- waiata reo Māori. Tuhoe began an awareness campaign to reclaim their whenua and created their own kara. Others went into storytelling through contemporary art. Far North group Te Kawariki embarked on a campaign to set up a Māori flag competition to inspire Māori to have hope in a time- where Māori were struggling to realise kaupapa Māori education, land claims and high unemployment. Te Kawariki sought a flag that would appeal to Māori of any politics or religion- a flag of Māori identity and pride.

The final winning Māori flag now commonly referred to as the Tino or Tino Rangatiratanga flag was created by 3 women from Tai Tokerau: the late Hiraina Marsden(Ngai Takoto), the late Jan Dobson Smith (Patu Harakeke) and Linda Munn (Ngāti Manu, Tauranga Moana).  Liz Marsden (Ngai Takoto, Ngāti Korokoro) suggested the koru be off centre.  The flag was taken to several hui in Tai  Tokerau, the design was modified a few times, Ahipara women hand sewed some flags and launched them in Kaitaia on the annual hikoi to  Waitangi in 1990.

Reddish brown represents Papatuānuku- the earth mother. The white represents Te Ao Marama and the koru reminds us that life is continually in renewal and ongoing. Black represents Ranginui- the sky father. No matter what, there is a natural order in the universe- the earth and sky embrace the world of the living. The natural colours and its simplistic depiction of the world led to an early acceptance of the flag by many MĀORI in different walks of life.

The simple symbolism and a $5 promotional poster was circulated around the country and was scripted by Walter Erstich. “The elements of the national Māori flag represent the three realms:

  • Te Korekore, potential being (black, top)
  • Te Ao Mārama, the realm of being and light (white, centre).The koru is symbolic of a curling fern frond, representing the unfolding of new life, hope for the future and the process of renewal.
  • Te Whai Ao, coming into being (red, bottom).”

Te Kawariki members did try and control the sale of quality flags- but so many flags were given as koha for hikoi, land occupations, Xmas presents for the cousins in Australia- it became,  aroha mai, unprofitable.  Whānau did like buying the cheaper $10 versions from the $2 shops  and solves the problem of access and affordability . However, be wary of some kara versions that have a narrow white strip which alter the flag dimensions.

After much consultation Te Kawariki set a kaupapa with the flag:
1) the flag dimensions not be changed;
2) the kara should not be worn on the kotore ( derriere, bottom);
3) the icon be used by any group supporting and promoting kaupapa Māori and not for personal gain;
4) the original artists wanted any royalties to go towards setting up a Māori arts wānanga in Ngāpuhi;

2009 -Te Puni Kokiri hosted 21 public hui throughout the motu  to ascertain which kara could serve Māori. All hui recognised other flags which meant significant things to hapu, Iwi and the nation. Each marae has the mana to fly its own flags. In Australia- the Aboriginal flag is flown at state events- as the government has invested in two flagpoles.

2010 -Although the kara is recognised as a national Māori flag- the ownership of the Māori flag remains with Māori people-not with the Crown.  6th Feb, 2010 the Māori flag was handed over to rangatahi Māori as the next generation of kaitiaki.

2015,  the government conducted a referendum regarding replacing the union jack flag. The 3 whānau of the flag designers decided not to enter the Tino flag as a new flag for Aotearoa. It was felt that the Māori flag would not get the majority support of Aotearoa.

July 2015, The kara is not owned by any one political party or faith- mā tātou katoa. “The Tino flag has its own mana, identity and national recognition amongst many Māori.  Papatuanuku (red), Ranginui (black) and the koru of Te Ao Marama (white) remind us of our responsibilities to our taiao and simple enduring values from our past to guide our rangatahi and future mokopuna. The Tino flag is not owned by the state, it is a taonga Māori and is not to be vetted by others who mock Māori sovereignty. Māori are comfortable with the tino flag- which is a modest statement of Māori identity and is not separatist nor a criticism of anyone else. Aotearoa is not ready for Tino, for Māori landlords, it’s not even ready to replace the union jack. ” MANA News 2015

2017 The whānau of the flag designers will be meeting to discuss the intellectual property rights …

2018– update the history of the Tino flag for mokopuna.

H Halkyard-Harawira , For Te Kawariki a group of Treaty activists from the Far North Tai Tokerau 1985—

Principles of flying the national Māori flag (NZ Government).
The national Māori flag should be flown in a way that: respects the status of the New Zealand flag as ‘the symbol of the Realm, Government and people of New Zealand’ expresses a spirit of mutual respect and nationhood, respects its status as the preferred national Māori flag.
Protocols for flying the national Māori flag with the New Zealand Flag
These guidelines are intended to complement the New Zealand Flag protocols.
Subject to the principles above, flying the national Māori flag should be consistent with current flag-flying practices. Flying the two flags together on Waitangi Day is encouraged.

Multiple flagpoles
For multiple flag poles, the New Zealand flag should fly from the pole on your left as you’re looking at it, with the national Māori flag next to the New Zealand flag. The two flags should fly from equal height.

Where to get a national Māori flag 
The national Māori flag is produced by some of New Zealand’s flag manufacturers, such as Adams Flags, Flagz Group Ltd,, Flagmakers, and The Flag Shop Ltd.