PM breaks new ground at Waitangi

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern listens to a welcome from Maori Wardens at Bay of Islands Holiday Park with, from left, Ministers Andrew Little, Kelvin Davis and Peeni Henare. Photo: NZ Herald
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern listens to a welcome from Maori Wardens at Bay of Islands Holiday Park with, from left, Ministers Andrew Little, Kelvin Davis and Peeni Henare. Photo: NZ Herald

Jacinda Ardern started her unprecedented five-day visit to Waitangi the way she intends to finish it — with a series of firsts for a Prime Minister at the nation's birthplace.

Ms Ardern is the first Prime Minister to spend Waitangi Day at Waitangi since 2015, the first to stay for five days — many of her predecessors left shortly after the official welcome, if they came at all — and the first to order her ministers into the kitchen to prepare a public Waitangi Day breakfast instead of the VIP-only affair of the past.

On February 5 she will be the first female PM allowed to speak from the porch of Te Whare Runanga, the Treaty Grounds' carved meeting house.

The head of the Maori Wardens, whose annual get-together she attended yesterday, said she was the first Prime Minister to take time at Waitangi to ''talk to ordinary people instead of just the big boys'', and she is without doubt the first pregnant Prime Minister to visit Waitangi.

Wherever she went she was subjected to baby jokes and baby name suggestions or had babies thrust at her for photos, but took it all in good humour.

Ms Ardern's duties started yesterday morning as a guest of the Iwi Leaders Forum, an annual three-day get-together of tribal leaders from around the country.

About 150 people took part, including leaders of every iwi in Northland, with turnout boosted by curiosity in the new Government.

There were hints of possible tensions beforehand — the forum had worked closely with the previous government, and had written to Ms Ardern setting out thorny issues it wanted to raise such as water rights and the Kermadecs Ocean Sanctuary — but the atmosphere was warm and welcoming.

Ms Ardern was accompanied by Labour's Maori caucus with her deputy and Tai Tokerau MP Kelvin Davis and Tamaki Makarau MP Peeni Henare by her sides.

The politicians were welcomed by Waitai Petera, of Te Aupouri, who suggested the name Waimirirangi — Queen of Ngapuhi — for the baby.

Mr Davis had the hall roaring with laughter when he responded by saying he feared someone would suggest Ardern's baby take the traditional, ancestral Ngapuhi name Sonny, a humorous dig at Ngapuhi leader Sonny Tau.

Wild weather on Thursday disrupted Ms Ardern's plans to fly up that evening but she made it to the forum on time after driving up early Friday morning.

Later she had meetings with Northland's Maori Wardens, Northland mayors and council bosses and the Maori Women's Welfare League, before taking a tour of Waitangi Treaty Grounds and opening an art exhibition.

Dick Dargaville, the head of the Taitokerau District Maori Council, which oversees the Maori Wardens, said it was the first time a Prime Minister had taken up an invitation to visit the wardens.

''It's the first time we've had a Prime Minister who's come up to talk to ordinary people. Usually it's only the big boys that get to talk to them.''

Mr Dargaville said he hoped to raise the issue of funding for the wardens' travel and training. The volunteers were ''the backbone of the community'' and the first group called on to help any time there was a major event, but the organisation struggled financially.

Today Ms Ardern is due to visit Karetu Marae, east of Kawakawa, the home marae of Mr Davis and several other Labour MPs.

She will have a day off on Sunday while on Monday, in another first, she will be formally welcomed at Te Whare Runanga at the Treaty Grounds instead of the traditional powhiri at Te Tii Marae.

At noon she will join a family picnic at Paihia School before attending the Navy's Beat Retreat ceremony at the Treaty Grounds flagpole and dinner with the Waitangi National Trust.

On Waitangi Day she will return to Te Whare Runanga for the dawn service and will host a public breakfast, with her ministers donning the aprons, near the Whare Waka at the lower Treaty Grounds. After a walkabout she will fly to Auckland for a reception with the Governor-General.

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