Tā Pita Sharples, of Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngai Te Kikiri o te Rangi and Ngāti Pahauwera, was born in Waipawa in 1941 and grew up in the small country town of Takapau in Hawkes Bay.

He went to secondary school at Waipukurau District High School and Te Aute Māori Boys College, where he developed his skills in kapa haka and a passion for Māori language and culture. He went on to establish the New Zealand National School of Maori Weaponry, where he became Tumu Whakarae (Sacerdotal Head and Master), and he founded Te Roopu Manutaki Maori Cultural Group.

He studied at Auckland University and trained as a teacher. In 1977 he was awarded a PhD from Auckland University in Anthropology and Linguistics. In 1982 he was appointed inaugural Chairman of the Ngati Kahungunu Tribal Runanga which he chaired for eight years.

For eight years he headed the Office of the Race Relations Conciliator, and then became Director of Culture at the Department of Māori Affairs. He has also been a Professor of Education at Auckland University and an Adjunct Professor at Unitec.

Living in West Auckland, he led the establishment of Hoani Waititi Marae throughout the 1970s, and has been actively involved there ever since, including as chairman for 37 years. He also led the establishment of the first Kura Kaupapa Maori in New Zealand, Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Hoani Waititi. Dr Sharples has belonged to numerous Māori community and education organisations, and has been a consultant to many government agencies and professional boards.

In 2004 he became Co-leader of the Māori Party, and was elected as MP for Tamaki Makaurau in 2005, 2008 and 2011. He was the Minister of Māori Affairs and Associate Minister of Education and Corrections from November 2008 to September 2014.

In 2015 In June, he was appointed a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services as a Member of Parliament and to Māori in the Queen's Birthday Honours List.

He is married to Arapera and is a proud father of five children and grandfather of 16 mokopuna.