Before moving on to the Hastings District Council, mayor Lawrence Yule was a "white, male, conservative farmer" who had very little understanding or connection with Maori.
"I have been mayor of Hastings for 11 years and a councillor for 17. That is where my journey of understanding started and you will see here today that Maori culture is very much part of our lives."
Mr Yule made the comments to the group of visiting Australian and New Zealand district and county chief judges at Te Aranga Marae in Flaxmere yesterday.
"Hastings is the best place to live in the world, it has everything you need for a wonderful life. But there are challenges.
"We have Maori and Pacific people that end up before the judiciary, they are not the only ones, but they are over represented. We also have the worst health statistics and one of the highest suicide rates in the country."
Employment was also a problem, he told the judges. But Flaxmere's U-Turn Trust and community leaders such as Des Ratima (Whakatu), Henare O'Keefe (Flaxmere) and Ngati Kahungunu iwi chairman Ngahiwi Tomoana were meeting those challenges head on.
"It is really here at Te Aranga in Flaxmere where people are trying to change things. Flaxmere has its challenges but is not a bad place. You find here people that care and will give you the shirt of their back."
Mr Yule said initiatives the U-Turn Trust and community had successfully launched were "a bit risky" but worked because they were "a little bit out of the square" and driven by people not the courts or government.
It included the community garden, the community mobile barbecue called Tunu tunu and the Flaxmere heroes calender.
"If there is a challenge in this region it is where today's people are going to be in the next 20 years. We need to support local ideas and local leadership to fix these problems, to have the ability to empower people."