Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has spoken at Waitangi, announcing the date of the first Matariki public holiday and promising to "walk the bridge" with Māori more.
It is Ardern's fourth visit to Waitangi as Prime Minister, and she used it to announce the first date of the new Matariki public holiday – 24 June 2022.
The announcement was met with warm applause from those at the pōwhiri.
Ardern said it was more than just a public holiday – it was an opportunity for people to learn about history, and Māori tradition.
Ardern said changes such as that and teaching New Zealand history in schools were foundational changes, and would be the ones she was most proud of at the end of her time in her job.
She said when she last came to Waitangi, "there were clouds above us and clouds looming".
She said those clouds had included Ihūmatao, Oranga Tamariki and Ngāpuhi's settlement.
She said the Government had worked hard to try to resolve those issues but there would always be clouds looming.
"I know Māori are exhausted. Every day since singing the Treaty you have stepped and walked over that bridge. And we have not walked that bridge enough."
She said that meant the Government had to work harder to honour Te Tiriri and rebuild trust.
Although National's leader Judith Collins and Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson sat next to Ardern on the mahau, neither were given speaking slots in the main pōwhiri and instead male MPs had to speak for them.
They will speak at a later event this afternoon.
National's deputy leader Shane Reti raised that diplomatically in his speech, saying the National Party were "saddened" Collins was not able to speak on the marae, despite leading the party within Parliament.
"Why was that the case? Perhaps she is a woman. We must not forget the mana, the power of women who house life. So I must express these matters for you, the local people, to take consideration of that."
It was responded to with a "kia ora". Reti was warmly received – speaking in te reo Māori and setting out his own Ngāpuhi credentials.
And during his response, Waihoroi Shortland said it was a shame women had not been given the opportunity to speak. "Next year you will get that opportunity."
It got a thumbs-up from Judith Collins.
As National MPs watched on, Ardern drove home Labour's election success and the strength of Māori in her Cabinet and party.
She highlighted Labour taking the National strongholds of Northland and Whangarei, as well as the 15 Māori MPs Labour now had.
Waihoroi Shortland gave the response to Ardern, noting it was "report card time".
He spoke about the Ngāpuhi settlement, for which a $120 million investment fund was established to help build an asset base while the iwi resolves issues over its negotiations mandate.
He urged the Government to be ready, but to leave Ngāpuhi to "stitch ourselves together".
He said he welcomed the fund, which marked economic sovereignty returning to the iwi.
Ardern spoke after Ngāpuhi elder Hone Sadler pointed to the problems he felt Māori faced: problems that were not solved by a public holiday. He referred to the women leaders sitting in front of the wharenui – Ardern, Collins and Marama Davidson – and said they been given a great responsibility.
"You have been selected to lead and that is a great responsibility how you will lead us, because of the pressures and difficulties that are being experienced by the Māori people." He referred to the imprisonment rates, health problems, suicides and education, as well as housing.
He urged them to do what had to be done to resolve the problems.
"It is not just the fault of this Government, It is the fault of governments over the last 50 – 100 years. We must find a way so the Māori people can emerge from those problems on our shoulders."
The other parties also fielded Ngāpuhi speakers: Act Party leader David Seymour spoke of the power of the Treaty and the meaning of the Treaty grounds. The Green Party's new MP Teanau Tuiono spoke for them, noting "I am usually with the protestors."
Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson also spoke – those on the other side ribbing him a bit to pay for various projects on their wishlist such as the one-lane bridge leading to the Waitangi grounds.
It was Robertson who handed over the koha, saying he was pleased to contribute – and drawing the good-humoured response "and we hope you will be pleased to contribute more."
It was a much-diminished crowd at the pōwhiri – only a handful of members of the public watched on. Many of the usual groups that attend Waitangi – including the Māori Party and delegations who attend with the iwi leaders – had opted to stay away after the recent case of Covid-19 in Northland.
Hone Harawira had called for Waitangi events to be cancelled, given the commemorations fall within the two-week incubation period.
While NZ First leader Winston Peters and Shane Jones are usually front and centre of proceedings, the only former NZ First MP in sight was Jenny Marcroft, who sat with the tangata whenua.