Te Rūnanga o Aotearoa was first established within New Zealand Nurses Union (NZNU), which had a higher proportion of Māori membership than NZNA. Tino rangatiratanga self-determination with the union was now deemed essential.

During an industrial encounter between NZNU and Presbyterian Support Services in Hamilton, a caregiver involved in the action, Hineraumoa Te Apatu, was identified by the organisers as someone with mana and courage. Supported by these organisers, she and a group of others set up Te Rūnanga, Rhoda Waitere chairing the first meeting.

Te Rūnanga was then officially endorsed by the NZNU committee of management. The Māori Queen Dame Te Atairangikaahu gave it her blessing, and Te Rūnanga was officially inaugurated at a hui at Mangere’s Te Puea Marae in 1990. Dot Stitchbury, interim chair, and kaumātua John Ahu, were involved in the outset. Nora Rameka of the NZCTU gave support as part of her wider role to assist unions to establish Māori structures.

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