'This is Aotearoa, there will always be clouds' - PM defends her Government's record for Māori

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has defended her government's record for Māori in an annual ceremony ahead of Waitangi Day tomorrow.

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Jacinda Ardern says she used the phrase at Waitangi because her Government is laying the foundation for long-term change. Source: 1 NEWS

Kiwi politicians of all stripes gathered at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds for a pōwhiri yesterday.

It was here that the Treaty of Waitangi, New Zealand's foundational document, was signed by Māori chiefs and the British crown 181 years ago.

And it was also here three years ago, on her first visit to Waitangi as prime minister, that Jacinda Ardern asked Māori leaders to "hold us to account".

Māori speakers used this year's occasion to share stories of suicide, of disenfranchisement from the health system, and of unwarranted police harassment.

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While Jacinda Ardern was allowed to speak, the opposition leader was not. Source: 1 NEWS

But Ms Ardern was given a warm reception, and said she was making "foundational changes" to increase the number of Māori language speakers and to integrate New Zealand history within the curriculum.

"These are foundational changes. Changes that change the shape of our country and of our people for the next generation," she said.

"It is an act of justice to make sure those children learn their history."

Labour has traditionally been well supported by Māori, but in last year's election success there were signs of a backlash.

As Labour swept to victory in dozens of seats held by the conservative National party, it also lost a Māori seat to Māori Party MP Rawiri Waititi.

Ms Ardern used her address to come good on an election commitment to introduce a new public holiday for the Māori New Year, Matariki, which will be held for the first time on 24 June 2022.

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The Prime Minister has always promised transformational change for NZ. Source: 1 NEWS

The Labour leader said the Government was "working hard" on other issues, naming corrections, Māori unemployment and inequality as "generational challenges".

"This is Aotearoa. There will always be clouds," she said.

"I know that Māoridom is exhausted. Every day since the Treaty of Waitangi you have walked over that bridge ... and we have not walked over that bridge often enough."

The gathering has a tendency to throw up surprise and scandal, with many a politician given a fierce reckoning by local Māori leaders over the years.

Previous prime ministers and opposition leaders have been heckled and even assaulted.

However, this year, the National party won a significant concession from Māori leaders.

Deputy leader Shane Reti, a locally based Māori MP, asked Ngāpuhi leaders why the National female leader, Judith Collins, was denied the right to speak.

In response, Te Waihoroi Shortland said that custom needed to change, and would do next year.

"That's a good message for every young woman out there," Ms Collins said.

"You too can take your place and have your say."

There was also a snub for National, with organisers abandoning a planned second gathering that would allow female leaders to speak.

"That's alright," Ms Collins said.

"We were in there eating wonderful kai."