This year Waitangi was the peaceful celebration that so many have wanted for so long. But was it really different, or are the big issues that divide Maori and successive Governments and which inspired so much protest at Waitangi still in the background, still unresolved and still capable of shattering the peace of future Waitangi celebrations.
Karetu Marae is by several of its kaumatua’s own admission, a small marae. Tucked up the Waikare Road between Kawakawa and Russell, it’s in the backblocks. It’s the main marae for Ngati Manu, a small sub-tribe of Ngapuhi.
But on Saturday it was the focal point of the new Government’s relationship with Maori and in many ways the kind of substantial scene setter for Waitangi Day that Te Ti marae at Waitangi might have been before its hui became chaotic.
Karetu is also the home marae for deputy Labour Leader, Kelvin Davis, and a marae to which an unusually large number of Maori MPs can whakapapa back to. Even Employment Minister Willie Jackson has a stake in the ground there by marrying into Ngati Manu.
On Saturday Jacinda Ardern was the first Prime Minister to visit the marae since Helen Clark.
It is because of Helen Clark that Labour has to tread carefully on Maori matters; the memory of the foreshore and seabed legislation which led to the formation of the Maori Party is still fresh.
But at the last election, Labour regained all seven Maori seats and elected another three Maori MPs I general seats and off the list.
It’s a big mandate.
“I acknowledge the importance and symbolism of us being here today.
“With your warm words and your welcome, I also accept the challenge
“It is probably one of the reasons when I am welcomed onto Marae that I feel the weight of expectation of the role of Prime Minister, because with that warmth also comes the expectation of your people.
“I appreciate that on marae the role that you have is to speak for your people.
“And that means inevitably we must always speak of the challenges.
“If you ask me, that is what Waitangi is for.
“That is what these days are for; not just to speak of kindness and warmth together but of the challenges we collectively face.
“So I acknowledge the words and the request that we be a Government that focuses on the issues that affect the people of the north; that we speak openly about poverty, about health and well being — about all of the things that stand in the way of true and genuine equality in Aotearoa.
“So I implore you to keep speaking openly, to challenge us.
“We feel that weight of expectation every single day, but we need to continue to hear it from you.”
And they did, dramatically, later in the day.
The Government knows that there are two parallel strands of issues that they must deal with with Maori.
It is clear that they regained all the Maori seats because of a sense of a need for urgency among Maori to deal with immediate social problems — jobs, housing, health, “P”.
And here they appear to be already making progress.
Ardern met with all the Northland Mayors in a closed session and NZ First’s Minister of Regional Economic Development, Shane Jones, met separately with the Northland local government Chief Executives on Friday.
The mayors, who all put jobs as their immediate priority, were upbeat about the meetings.
Perhaps the most enthusiastic was the former National Party Minister, John Carter, who is now Mayor of the Far North District Council.
“We now have the understanding that the stars are aligned, and this is our opportunity as a district, as a region to work together with the Government,“ he told POLITIK.
“It’s all about the economy, it’s about tourism, it’s about social issues, it’s about Maori land, all those sorts of things but the point is that we now have an opportunity seriously to make some progress and we are confident we can.”
The chair of the Northland Regional Council, Bill Shepherd, was similarly pleased.
“There are quite a few areas that the new Government wants to achieve that align very much with what local government wants to achieve as well so we want to focus our attention in that area where we can all get more bangs for our buck,” he said.
“It’s also about infrastructure, about our connections to the rest of New Zealand and the world physically through the four-lane highway from Northland to Auckland that we are looking for and in particular in the digital area as well.”
Both mayors said they had received a positive reaction to the four laning from Whangarei to Auckland
“Connecting infrastructure is actually critical so that we can build an economy which will create those better jobs,” said Shepherd.
But the other strand of Labour’s relationship, the constitutional issues, particularly with regards to sovereignty is more problematical.
That much was clear after the meeting between the Iwi Chairs’ Forum and Ardern on Friday.
The spokesman for the Forum, Maahia Nathan, said that there was a willingness for the Government and the Forum to work through the issues.
The Forum has set out four “pou” (poles) on which it bases its goals.
They cover culture (which includes sovereignty issues); the environment; people and poverty and the economy.
But they overlap.
And the potentially most problematical is the allocation of water.
Labour has proposed putting a charge on the exports of bottled water but in doing that it implies an ownership of water which in turn induces an immediate claim from Maori for the exercise of what the Waitangi Tribunal has already described as “rights equivalent to proprietorship” over water.
National ducked this issue for several years by simply proclaiming that “non-one” owned water.
Hoiwever all that did was freeze the debate.
Ardern has a subtle variation on this.
“Everyone has a stake in water, but we acknowledge that particularly Maori do,” she said on Friday.
However, speaking at a media conference after the meeting with the Iwi Chairs she placed her emphasis on the work Labour was doing on water quality.
“No doubt we will keep having that discussion (about water ownership) but right now quality is a huge part of that focus,” she said.
In fact, Labour has given few clues to its thinking about how it might resolve the water ownership and allocation issue.
Indeed Ardern was even reluctant to put any sort of timetable on when it might be resolved.
“We are now coming into a conversation that has been going on for a long time, so it is now up to us to re-establish that.
“I just don’t think it would be right to come out at our first meeting (with the iwi chairs) and put deadlines on an issue like that.”
How difficult it will be to resolve was made clear by Nathan.
“The iwi chairs have always been clear that in terms of the Tiriti of Waitangi, there was a promise of a full and guaranteed tino rangatiratanga of taonga — water, lands and forestry estates — so the Treaty establishes our tino rangatiratanga over things like water,” he said.
Some participants in the water debate have proposed a so-called “global” solution to the allocation of water like the fisheries’ settlement which would see Maori as a whole receive a share of water rights.
But given the very different nature of water bodies in different tribal rohe, this is unlikely to be an acceptable solution.
“One of the important principles that underpins our relationship here as iwi chairs is that it is up to each iwi to determine what is best for them in terms of mana, in terms of tino rangatiratanga, so it is not for us as a collective to decide what is important for each iwi.”
What this points to is that any final decision will also have to involve local Government since that is the only way that different solutions can be found that respect regional and rohe differences.
Back at Karetu, Ngati Manu gave the Prime Minister a dramatized account of their own history which highlighted the degree of scepticism that remains among Maori as to whether a Labour Government will deal with the fundamental constitutional issues that spring from the Treaty.
Though Ngati Manu signed the Treaty, their experience of it, in reality, was tragic.
After the 1845 Battle of Kororareka which saw the town now called Russell burned to the ground and the Pakeha inhabitants fleeing to Auckland, two British warships with regiments of soldiers aboard arrived to exact revenge.
Their immediate target was the Ngati Manu village of Otuihu sitting on the harbour near Russell.
But Ngati Manu had not taken part in the battle.
Nevertheless, their Chief, Pomare, was captured and their village bombarded by artillery and destroyed.
They fled 10 miles inland to Karetu where their current marae still stands.
The incident has plainly left bitter memories at Karetu.
In the drama presented to Ardern, a “nanna” who was present at the destruction of Otuihu calls on her present-day descendant to remember what happened in1845.
The descendant says things have changed; that we now have a Government with a woman leading it and Members of Parliament who whakapapa to Karetu.
Then the nanna asks: “Will this tauiwi (foreign) Government behave with honour in regard to us or is my fear that this remains unchanged well founded.”
The reply from her young descendant is enigmatic.
“We have not forgotten,” he said.
Labour has twice lost some of its Maori seats — in 1996 — and then after the foreshore and seabed debacle in 2005.
This Waitangi day marks the formal beginning of the Government’s relationship with Maori but as Ardern says, the weight of expectation will be high and old memories are still alive.