Sonya Rimene on creating a strong foundation of identity, culture and reo for Rangitāne

Sonya wears a korowai created by Girlie Kawana acknowledging the Crown’s return of Pūkaha Forest to Rangitāne in February 2020.

A strong public service background has given Sonya Rimene the experience, networks and relationships required to help influence Crown decision-makers to advance and support the aspirations of iwi/Māori.

Words: Amokura Panoho  Photo: Esther Bunning


Ko Rangitumau te maunga
Ko Ruamāhanga te awa
Ko Kurahaupō te waka
Ko Rangitāne te iwi
Ko Ngāti Hāmua te hāpu
Ko Te Ore Ore te marae
Ko Te Rimene Witinitara te tupuna
Koia nā te taha o tōku papa

Ko Te Aorangi te maunga
Ko Ōnoke te moana
Ko Tākitumu te waka
Ko Ngāti Kahungunu te iwi
Ko Ngāti Hinewaka te hapū
Ko Kohunui te marae
Ko Hēmi Te Miha te tupuna
Koia nā te taha o tōku māmā

He uri au Te Arawa me Kai Tahu hoki.

Rangitumau is my mountain
Ruamahana my river
Kurahaupō my canoe
Rangitāne my tribe
Ngāti Hāmua my subtribe
Te Ore Ore my marae
Rimene Witinitara my ancestor
This is from my father’s side

Te Aorangi is my mountain
Ōnoke my sea
Tākitimu my canoe
Ngāti Kahungunu my tribe
Ngāti Hinewaka my subtribe
Kohunui my marae
Hēmi Te Miha my ancestors
This is from my mother’s side

I am also from Te Arawa and Ngāi Tahu.

Sonya Rimene is chair of Rangitāne Tū Mai Rā Trust, the post-settlement governance entity for Rangitāne o Wairarapa and Rangitāne o Tāmaki Nui-ā-Rua. Director of Wairarapa Moana Incorporation. Sonya’s senior public services roles were in Te Puni Kōkiri and the ministries of women’s affairs, corrections, education and social development.


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I am the trust and property operations manager at Te Tumu Paeroa. Our role is to administer Māori freehold land and other assets on behalf of Māori landowners, providing professional administration trustee services to multi-owned land. Our portfolio has approximately 1800 Māori entities, covering 88,000 hectares, valued at $176 million.


Working at the senior level with CEOs, ministers and boards has made me more reflective and tactical in decision-making and has helped me be more prepared to take on a tribal leadership role. It has also strengthened my belief in the importance of service for our people.

In my early leadership roles, I worked alongside Mavis Mullins and Kingi Smiler. Both are chairs and driving forces behind iwi organizations such as Wairarapa Moana Incorporation and Atihau Whanganui Incorporation. Mavis and Kingi set the bar high as tactical and strategic thinkers and have demonstrated how to get things done when navigating corporate and cultural responsibilities.


Tini whetū ki te rangi, ko Rangitāne ki te whenua. (Like the multitude of stars in the sky, so great is Rangitāne on the earth.) This whakataukī speaks about how we reach for the stars and unite ourselves and continue the legacy of our tupuna (ancestors) — Hāmua and Te Rangiwhaka-ewa, from which our iwi Rangitāne descend.

We are young in our development, building our platform to grow into the future to adapt, create proud, strong and resilient whānau, unleash our potential and build a space and place where our mokopuna will thrive as Rangitāne.

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My goal is for our iwi to know our reo, culture and whakapapa, and with that strong foundation, Rangitāne can be successful citizens of the world. The settlement process for us was complex and created conflict regarding reasserting our tribal authority and relationship to the rohe (region) in the Wairarapa and Tāmaki Nui-ā-Rua areas.

So cultural revitalization and education are key for us over the next 10 to 20 years. The challenge for our whānau is accessing our identity, culture and reo (language) as of right. Reframing and rethinking our education models and feeling comfortable within ourselves is our next major step.

We now have the opportunity to engage in managing our local natural resources and infrastructure through co-governance arrangements. This is part of the solution to growing our economic wellbeing while we seek to provide our people with warm, dry homes and meaningful jobs. In 50 years, we will be a recognized force, with tactical partnerships across iwi, Crown, industries, joint ventures with First Nations, and we will be food producers for the world. That will be our reality, not just aspiration.


My parents, Mark (Manaakitia) and Diane Jury Ahipene. Growing up, “holiday” was not a part of our vocabulary. With my older sister Tania and younger brother Matthew, we worked alongside our parents as kids. Consequently, I developed a strong work ethic with a passion for doing the right thing and doing things right.

My two uncles, Kuki and Jim Rimene, who were Rangitāne tūturu (authentic), humble, quiet leaders, were instrumental in carving out our Rangitāne place and space. I remember times spent with them recalling whakapapa, stories, relationships, significant events and identifying key alliances.

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During my time at the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, where my role was to recognize and celebrate mana wāhine, I met a range of Māori women who were inspirational leaders, such as Dames Naida Glavish, Tariana Turia and Tureiti Moxon. They made me value the no-nonsense and staunch attitude of my kuia back in the Wairarapa, such as Nanny Mummy, Manawaroa Rimene (nee Taepa), Aunty Fanny (Pani Morris) and Aunty Kuini Te Tau.

Balancing my daytime job with chair responsibilities and obligations requires a supportive network, given that I don’t reside within the tribal rohe I chair. My times of being active with kōhanga reo in the early days, being ready to pick up the tea towel when at home on my marae, and then helping the development of our people within my public service roles has given my people confidence that I can manage my obligations.


We are a village and can’t do this growth and development by ourselves, and we are going to be tactical about who we engage with to deliver beneficial outcomes for our people. Like other iwi, we are starting from a cultural paradigm, not a commercial, Western paradigm.

However, our investment arm, Tu Mai Rā, the focus of which is property, high-value food and energy, is already working with developers who have a track record of dealing with iwi. It is about having common values on where we are going to connect.

NZ Life and Leisure This article first appeared in NZ Life & Leisure Magazine.
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