Stop striving for perfection at Waitangi commemorations, says PM

2:59 pm on 6 February 2018

Dissent and protest around Waitangi Day commemorations shouldn't been seen as a sign of failure, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says.

Waka launch from Te Tii Beach.

Waka launch from Te Tii Beach. Photo: RNZ / John Boynton

Waitangi Day got off to a peaceful start in the Bay of Islands, with an estimated 1500 people attending the traditional prayer service on the Treaty Grounds.

The turnout is thought to be the biggest in decades.

At the dawn service Ms Ardern gave a reading based on extracts from the Book of Celtic Wisdom by John Donahue.

She asked that those gathered never lose sight of why they had come to Waitangi today and that they might know the wisdom of deep listening.

Leaders of other political parties also read prayers.

Watch: Mihingarangi Forbes interviews Pita Paraone on RNZ's Waitangi Day programme

Ngāpuhi leader Sonny Tau said New Zealand had a good run under the National Party for the last nine years, but acknowledged the nation might benefit from a young leader.

"We've got a very very young country and a very very young leader and that combination ...is going to be dynamite for this country."

Ms Ardern said it had been an incredibly moving few days for her in the Far North.

The crowd at the Waitangi dawn service.

The crowd at the Waitangi dawn service. Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams

She said while the atmosphere at Waitangi this year had been more positive and peaceful than in recent years, she did not think people should shy away from challenging the government.

"I think we should stop striving for perfection at the commemorations of our national day. If people choose to use their voice on this day that does not mean it is a failure, it does not mean the day needs to change or move it just means that we're not complacent."

She said her first visit to Waitangi as Prime Minister had exceeded her expectations.

"Of course I was hopeful that everything would go to plan from Ngāpuhi perspective. I know that we make it challenging for them because politicians are often targets so it's not always easy even if you go in with the ambition of it being a particular way."

A group of women at Waitangi, who weave wahakura, gifted the prime minister three  flax bassinets.

A group of women at Waitangi, who weave wahakura, gifted the prime minister three flax bassinets. Photo: RNZ / Shannon Haunui-Thompson

A group of women at Waitangi, who weave wahakura, have gifted the Prime Minister three of the woven flax bassinets in three sizes.

Jacinda Ardern said she will use them for her baby.

The Prime Minister then hosted a BBQ for the public at the nearby waka shelter.

Ms Ardern, who was on sausage and bacon duty, said they catered for 400 people but were running out of food within half an hour.

In a brief speech to the crowd she said she had been told previous prime minister's held a breakfast at a local hotel, but she opted instead to do something for the public.

Ms Ardern will spend some time at the Waitangi festival before returning to Auckland.

Watch: Chris Wikaira interviews Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Around mid-morning a small group of protestors led by Waitangi elder Kingi Taurua marched through the congregation assembled for this morning's church service chanting "Hikoi", before moving on.

Hundreds of people gathered to catch a glimpse of a flotilla of waka launched later this morning.

Down the hill from the Waitangi Treaty Grounds the waka left the shore and began their annual journey to Te Tii Marae.

An estimated 1500 people attend the pre-dawn prayer service on the Treaty Grounds.

An estimated 1500 people attend the pre-dawn prayer service on the Treaty Grounds. Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

National Party leader Bill English is spending Waitangi Day in Bluff.

Last year, when he was prime minister, he opted not to go to Waitangi, saying there was too much disorganisation and disruption at Te Tii Marae.

But this year all of the events have been shifted to the marae on the Treaty Grounds.

Mr English said that decision, made by the Waitangi National Trust board, appeared to have been a good one.

"It's been great to see the dignity restored to that event where people have been able to enjoy the Waitangi Day significance for New Zealand rather than have to put up with what used to happen in the run up to it."

Mr English said he will be attending Ngāi Tahu's official commemoration events at Bluff.

Congregation gathers for church service on Treaty Grounds.

Congregation gathers for church service on Treaty Grounds. Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams

Celebrations all around the country

Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei hosted a big event at Okahu Bay with hundreds of people turning out for the food, entertainment and Māoritanga.

One of those attending said it was a good day spend with family and to get together to celebrate a good day for the whole country.

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Waitangi Day celebrations at Orakei Reserve in Auckland. Photo: RNZ / Laura Tupou

There were also whānau friendly events at Hoani Waititi Marae in west Auckland and at Hayman Park in Manukau.

Local iwi Ngāti Whātua spokesperson, Ngarimu Blair, said thousands had come over the nine years the iwi had run the event at Orakei Domain.

He said New Zealanders want to come together and connect with the land, the sea and each other in order to flourish.

In the capital, the national day was marked with kapa haka and live music at Waitangi Park, with plenty of Wellingtonians tucking into kai from a hāngi.

There is also a festival at the Porirua Harbour waterfront where 100 paddlers and their waka were out on the water taking people for tours, the event also had different cultural performances and music.

While in the South Island, events are also being held at Okains Bay Marae in Christchurch and in Nelson at Whakatū Marae and Founders Park.