Changes to vulnerable children legislation to allow Maori children to be placed with whanau is possible after an "open, gritty" meeting between senior ministers and iwi in Waitangi.
Prime Minister Bill English says the meeting, attended by a dozen government MPs on Friday morning, was the kind that makes progress.
Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox led the delegation into this year's first Iwi Chairs Forum, followed by Mr English who was flanked by his deputy Paula Bennett and Education Minister Hekia Parata.
Inside more than 60 iwi leaders from across New Zealand were waiting to present on issues on everything from children and young people to natural resources.
Mr English said discussions were had around fresh water, Maori land reforms and the vulnerable children legislation.
"We have pretty gritty discussions in there," Mr English said of the closed-door meeting.
"The iwi leaders get up and they tell us what they're after and they push and shove a bit and it's all done in a spirit of respect and that's how we make progress," he said.
Mr English said after the meeting that he was open to discussions addressing Maori concerns about placement of vulnerable children and making placement with whanau a priority.
"There'll be a pretty open public discussion," he said.
Waikato-Tainui iwi chairman Rahui Papa welcomed that news.
"It's really comforting to know that the messages are getting through," he said.
"We think that whanau, hapu and iwi are best placed to look after children that have been removed into the state's hands.
"If they're given the opportunity to be in their own cultural context with their own heritage and legacy then that helps the child."
The prime minister's non attendance at Waitangi Day celebrations on the nearby Te Tii Marae was also raised during the forum.
Mr English said while it would be great for the government to come back "at some stage" he also thought there would be strong support for roaming celebrations.