Tūreiti Te Heuheu Tūkino, the fifth paramount chief of Ngāti Tūwharetoa, was born in 1865 or 1866, probably at Waihī, near Tokaanu, the eldest son of Horonuku Te Heuheu Tūkino IV and Tahuri Te Tuaki (whose name is also recorded as Tahuri Te Uaki). His hapū were Ngāti Tūrumakina, Ngāti Kurauia, Ngāti Tūrangitukua and Ngāti Hikairo. He reputedly received the name Tūreiti (too late) through being born too late to receive the conch-shell blessing on the eldest son, which had gone – mistakenly it seems – to the first-born child, a daughter. Tūreiti's paternal grandmother was Te Mare, the second wife of Mananui Te Heuheu Tūkino II. She was a grand-daughter of Te Rangitua-mātotoru, a Ngāti Tūwharetoa leader before Herea Te Heuheu Tūkino I. His great-grandmother was Rangiaho of Ngāti Maniapoto, the first wife of Herea.
Tūreiti, as a young child, was present at the battle of Te Pōrere on 4 October 1869, the last major stand by Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Tūruki. His father and his followers were attacked by government forces and Tūreiti was hustled off into the bush west of Te Pōrere by the elders. He vividly remembered the attack on Mahaukura pā there, and their escape. After the surrender Tūreiti was taken, with his father and supporters, to Hawke's Bay where they faced an inquiry into the part they had played in the fighting. They returned to Taupō in 1870.
By 1887 Tūreiti was already conducting the affairs of his people on Horonuku's behalf. As early as 1885 he had signed Topia Tūroa's petition to Parliament for self-government for Māori. In 1888, on his father's death, Tūreiti succeeded to the paramountcy of Ngāti Tūwharetoa, and was appointed a trustee of the land that became the Tongariro National Park.
In 1891, at meetings of the Native Land Laws Commission at Cambridge, Tūreiti gave his views. He wanted tribal rather than hapū committees to deal with lands, and thought that Māori should manage blocks even when there were multiple owners. He wanted a public market in Māori land, because that way Māori would get competitive prices, and complained about the cost of subdivision and prohibitive survey charges. He suggested that the Native Land Court should be an appeal body, which would deal only with cases that Māori could not settle themselves, and agreed with Pāora Tūhaere of Ōrākei that Māori committees should have power to adjudicate on Māori land titles.
Between 1891 and 1902 Tūreiti played a very large role in the Kotahitanga movement for an independent Māori parliament. He organised the nominations and polling booths at Taupō in 1892, and from 1893 he was a minister in the Kotahitanga government. He believed that the chiefs in the movement should travel about with the Kotahitanga deeds of union to collect signatures in support of the movement. He supported H. K. Taiaroa's bill, presented to the Kotahitanga parliament, which would have granted the governor the power to sign into law bills passed by that parliament (an opposition bill denied the governor any role in law-making in the Kotahitanga parliament). He remained a minister of the Kotahitanga government until at least 1895.
Tūreiti was appointed a native assessor in the Resident Magistrate's Court in the district of Tauranga in 1892. He stood unsuccessfully against Wī Pere as MHR for Eastern Māori in 1893, and later stood unsuccessfully on four occasions for Western Māori: in 1899, 1902, 1905 and 1908. As Ngāti Tūwharetoa were from the central area and were not clearly associated with either seat, Tūreiti's supporters were insufficient to make a difference in either electorate.
From 1894 Tūreiti, his wife, Te Rerehau Kahotea (also known as Mere Te Iwa Te Rerehau) and family lived mainly in Wellington, in the suburb of Maranui (Lyall Bay), where his house was an important centre for Māori visiting Wellington on political business. He led a committee of chiefs who worked in Wellington to support the Māori members of Parliament and to see petitions through the Native Affairs Committee. One of their best-known endeavours was the support of MHR Hone Heke's efforts to get a measure of Māori self-government in 1894 through the Native Rights Bill. However, during the debating stage, member after member got up and walked out of the House resulting in lack of a quorum and consequent adjournment. The bill was introduced again in 1895 and 1896 but finally was defeated, although some of its principles were incorporated in legislation passed in 1900.
In 1895 Tūreiti was appointed an assessor in the Validation Court. He represented Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Wanganui people, Te Arawa, Ngāti Raukawa and Ngāti Maniapoto in opposing R. J. Seddon's Native Lands Settlement and Administration Bill in 1898, and continued to press for legal recognition of the Māori parliament. Tūreiti was among those consulted by James Carroll when the Māori Councils Act and Māori Lands Adminstration Act of 1900 were being formulated. In 1901 he sought clarification of Waikato–Ngāti Maniapoto boundaries under the new legislation.
Tūreiti was on the executive committee organising the Māori welcome to the duke and duchess of Cornwall and York at Rotorua in 1901, a considerable task, as thousands of Māori were camped on the Rotorua racecourse and the committee had to organise food, hygiene and many events and activities. On 18 April 1903 he was appointed advisory counsellor of the Tongariro Māori Council. Although he had been a supporter of Māori 'home rule', in 1908 he became president of the Māori Association, which favoured legal and social progress for Māori along European lines rather than the assertion of treaty rights.
On 3 November 1911 Tūreiti's wife Te Rerehau Kahotea died at Tokaanu. A mourning ceremony was held for her by Wairarapa Māori in February 1912. At this hui Wairarapa Māori were also getting together a petition of support for the Liberal government of Sir Joseph Ward and it was intended that Tūreiti take the petition to James Carroll. By August, however, Tūreiti seemed to be resigned to supporting the Reform prime minister, W. F. Massey, whose government had replaced Ward's, and took part in a hui where he spoke in support of Massey. That year he attended the tangihanga of Mahuta, the Māori King, and the installation of Te Rata as his successor, expressing his view that the title 'ariki' should be used, rather than 'Kingi'. In 1913 he became a committee member of the newly formed Te Whakakotahitanga, an attempt to revive Te Kotahitanga. In 1918 he was made a member of the Legislative Council.
During the First World War, Tūreiti was active in recruiting Māori, campaigning in different areas of New Zealand. He supported military conscription, convinced that it should apply even in Waikato, where he believed Māori should forget all their old grievances and fight for the empire. Many prominent Māori tried to persuade the people to join the other tribes to fight outside New Zealand. In the winter of 1918 Māui Pōmare and Tūreiti received hostile attention from their Waikato hosts. At one hui they were subjected to abusive haka, and whakapohane, the ultimate gesture of contempt. In 1919 Tūreiti made a gift of 35,000 acres of Ngāti Tūwharetoa land at Ōwhāoko in the Ruahine Ranges for the resettlement of Māori soldiers.
In 1918 his eldest son, Hepi Kahotea, died, which left his younger son, Hoani, to succeed him. Tūreiti died on 1 June 1921 at Auckland, and was survived by Hoani and three daughters: Te Mare, Rihi and Te Uira. A memorial stone for him was unveiled by the governor on 30 April 1923 at Waihī. Tūreiti had been an able, tireless, and eloquent representative of his people. He is remembered as a strong advocate of Māori equality and rangatiratanga. He campaigned for the establishment of political structures that would give his people the opportunity to exercise autonomy and power over their own destiny. He was thus a leader not only of Ngāti Tūwharetoa, but also of Māori as a nation.