Of Māori descent, he identified with the Ngāti Kahungunu iwi. He was born in Wairarapa, New Zealand on 4 February 1841. His mother was Te Aitu-o-te-rangi Jury.
In 1892 he was elected Chairman of Te Kotahitanga, the movement for an autonomous Māori parliament, at its first meeting at Waipatu.
At the second sitting of Te Kotahitanga in 1893 he was elected Premier. His premiership was mired by accusations of financial mismanagement made by his predecessor and successor, Hamiora Mangakahia.