Tino rangatiratanga is a Māori language term that can be interpreted as 'absolute sovereignty'. It notably appears in the Māori version of the Treaty of Waitangi, signed by the British Crown and Māori chiefs (rangatira) in 1840. It has become one of the most contentious phrases in retrospective analyses of the Treaty, amid debate surrounding the obligations agreed to by each signatory. The phrase features in current historical and political discourse on race relations in New Zealand, and is widely used by Māori advocacy groups. A flag based on tino rangatiratanga was designed in 1990, which has now become a representative flag for Māori across New Zealand.
Origins and etymology 
A rangatira is a chief, the nominalising suffix -tanga makes the word an abstract noun referring to the quality or attributes of chieftainship, and the addition of intensifier tino in this context means the phrase can be translated as 'highest chieftainship' (Kawharu, 1989, p. 314), the intention of which was to 'emphasize to a chief the Queen’s intention to give the complete control according to their customs' (ibid., p. 319). The term's closest English translation is 'absolute sovereignty', although many also refer to it as self-determination, autonomy, or Māori independence. Such a concept embraces the spiritual link Māori have with Papatuanuku (Earthmother) and is a part of the international drive by indigenous people for self-determination.
The Treaty of Waitangi 
The emphasis on tino rangatiratanga draws from an inconsistency arising between Article One and Article Two of the Treaty of Waitangi:
- In the English text of Article One of the Treaty, the Māori signatories cede their sovereignty to the British Crown. For the Māori text, since there was no direct Māori translation for the idea, the missionary neologism 'kawanatanga' (= 'governorship') was used to represent the concept of sovereignty. This word was based on the transliteration "Kawana" (= 'governor'), which had been invented by Bible translators to explain Pontius Pilate's authority in Judaea. Kawana was also used prior to 1840 to describe the Governor of New South Wales.
- In the English text of Article Two of the Treaty, signatories are assured that the full exclusive and undisturbed possession of their Lands and Estates Forests Fisheries and other properties would remain for so long as they chose. In the Māori text, signatories are assured that their tino rangatiratanga will remain undisturbed over their lands, kainga and other taonga (te tino rangatiratanga o ratou wenua o ratou kainga me o ratou taonga katoa, literally the absolute chieftainship of your lands, your homes, and all your treasures/taonga).
Based on the Māori text alone, in Article One the signatories appear to be ceding kawanatanga or governorship; while in Article Two the signatories are promised that their tino rangatiratanga or highest chieftainship would remain undisturbed. This apparent inconsistency has led to much debate as to whether the Māori signatories intended to cede their sovereignty to the British Crown at all.
Aside from the legal controversy of 'sovereignty' versus 'kawanatanga', many Māori see the Treaty as a charter to choose their own way of life within the framework of law, but free of external interference in taonga such as language and culture.
The Tino Rangatiratanga flag is often referred to as the Māori flag, one which can be used to represent all Māori. The flag was designed by Hiraina Marsden, Jan Smith and Linda Munn in 1990. It uses the national colours of New Zealand.
The official recognition of the Tino Rangatiratanga flag resulted from a campaign by indigenous rights advocacy group Te Ata Tino Toa. The group applied for the Tino Rangatiratanga flag to fly on the Auckland Harbour Bridge on Waitangi Day. Transit NZ, then the government agency responsible for the Bridge, declined on the basis that the flag did not represent a country recognised by the United Nations. After considerable debate in the public arena the group adopted a diversity of tactics to raise awareness around the issues including lobbying Transit NZ and Parliament, submissions to the Human Rights Commission and holding an annual 'Fly the Flag' competition, to more direct protest actions including bungee jumping off the Harbour Bridge, traffic jamming the Harbour Bridge, and flying the largest Tino Rangatiratanga flag ever made over the Harbour Bridge. Key organisers of the campaign included Tia Taurere, Gareth Seymour and Teanau Tuiono.
On 14 December 2009, Prime Minister John Key and Māori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples announced that the Māori Tino Rangatiratanga flag was chosen to fly from the Auckland Harbour Bridge and other official buildings (such as Premier House) on Waitangi Day. The announcement followed a Māori Party–led promotion and series of hui on which Māori flag should fly from the bridge. 1,200 submissions were received, with 80 per cent of participants in favour of the Tino Rangatiratanga flag as the preferred Māori flag.
Key said the Māori flag would not replace the New Zealand flag but would fly alongside it to recognise the partnership the Crown and Māori entered into when signing the Treaty of Waitangi. "No changes are being made to the status of the New Zealand flag," Mr Key said. Monarchy New Zealand said the move would be "potentially divisive" and AUT University Doctor Paul Moon was critical of the move.
Sharples said the Māori flag was a simple way to recognise the status of Māori as tangata whenua. "However, the New Zealand flag remains the symbol of our nation, and there is no intention to change this, nor to diminish the status of our national flag."
The Ministry of Culture and Heritage published guidelines describing the appropriate way to fly the Māori flag in relation to the New Zealand flag.
See also 
- Kawharu, I. H. (1989). Waitangi: Māori and Pākēha perspectives of the Treaty of Waitangi. Auckland, New Zealand: Oxford University Press.
- Awatere, D. (1982). Maori sovereignty. Broadsheet, 100, 38-42.
- Waitangi Tribunal (1996). The Taranaki report: Kaupapa tuatahi (Wai 143) (Report). Wellington, New Zealand. http://www.waitangi-tribunal.govt.nz/reports/downloadpdf.asp?reportid=3FECC540-D049-4DE6-A7F0-C26BCCDAB345.pdf. Retrieved 9 August 2010.
- New Zealand – Maori Flags
- "Te Haki - The Māori flag". Indigenous Portal. Retrieved December 14, 2011.
- Sina Ana Brown-Davis, Spokesperson for Te Ata Tino Toa. "Letter To Dr Sharples About Flying The Maori Flag". Retrieved December 14, 2011.
- Transit NZ. "Letter: Request for Support (Transit NZ and the Maori flag)". Retrieved December 14, 2011.
- "The Maori Flag Flies On Waitangi Day". Scoop.co.nz. Retrieved December 14, 2011.
- Colin Espiner (14 December 2009). "Maori flag to fly on Waitangi Day". The Dominion Post.
- "Maori Flag Decision Defended By Prime Minister". Radio New Zealand. 9 December 2009. Retrieved 24 January 2012.
- "Ministry of Culture and Heritage guidelines".
- Tino Rangatiratanga website
- Tino Rangatiratanga mail list
- Maori leaders clash over flag's new role at The New Zealand Herald