A Ngāi Tahu individual stands within their whānau. That whānau lives within a hapū. Collectively, in its simplest form, the various hapū come together and unite as an iwi.
In the case of Ngāi Tahu, 18 Papatipu Rūnanga are spread throughout Te Waipounamu (South Island). They exist to uphold the mana of their people over the land, the sea and the natural resources. The people that live and participate within the 18 rūnanga communities, take on the responsibility of keeping the home fires burning. They maintain their marae, greet and look after the visitors, bury the dead, help to raise the next generations and keep alive the traditions and stories of their hapū.
No rūnanga is the same, each has opportunities and challenges shaped by the land, the environment, the towns and cities and the people that make the region home. The rūnanga is the face of Ngāi Tahu at regional level, wanting better education for their children, safer communities and less pollution at the beach.
Each rūnanga has its own governance structure and it is through this mechanism that the collective Ngāi Tahu voice in the region is represented and heard at local government and community level.
Each of the 18 rūnanga appoints a tribal member to represent its interests at Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, the governing council overseeing the activities of the iwi.
Te Rūnanga was created to manage the collective assets of the iwi and in doing so support Papatipu Rūnanga in a way that allows each of them to exercise their rangatiratanga so they can build and sustain their communities for generations to come.