During the early years when we formed the Maori Party, I recall with some emotion many of our elders proclaiming amidst tears of joy that they had waited a lifetime for a Maori Party to be created.
That was 2004. Now, looking back, you can see that we have come a long way.
While I serve at the pleasure of Maori Party members and Maori around the country, and believe I still have a few years left in me, I want to be clear that I'm not entrenched in my role as co-leader. I am, rather, entrenched in kaupapa Maori, the Maori Party movement and representing and validating the Maori world view - Tu Maori Mai. That was, and always will be, my intent.
My reason for joining the cause, and lending my leadership to the Maori Party movement, was this passion and because I wanted to sustain and further the enthusiasm with which those elders welcomed a truly Maori political party, within our wider Maori communities and within a new generation.
My jovial slip of the tongue about remaining the co-leader "until I die" was not what I intended.
Maori leadership is not about privilege. It is not about perks, and it is not about individual mana. It is about service to your people, and carrying the aspirations of many and representing their interests.
In the parliamentary environment, the challenge for us in the Maori Party is to remain authentically Maori in a foreign environment. We subscribe to our kaupapa and tikanga, and every day we work in a Westminster system that goes against that grain creating friction. While people may not understand the way we do things, we will continue to strive to operate in a kaupapa Maori framework, and for that we do not apologise.
The current leadership discussions in the Maori Party are an example of this. I have read many commentaries about how we should just "do the numbers" and finish it one way or another and vote. Winner takes all. That is not the kaupapa Maori way. We believe in consensus rather than the tyranny of the majority. We believe in respecting mana rather than the ritual combat other political parties go through. Of course, these points are lost in translation through the television screens, but we are on the kaupapa.
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the role of every Maori member of Parliament is a leadership role, and that should not be devalued or considered a privilege when our clear responsibility is to serve our people. I do feel, however, that the challenge that lies ahead for us in the Maori Party is also about developing a working infrastructure for the future.
In my State of the Maori Nation speech on Waitangi Day, I argued that activism must not only be about creating new spaces, but consolidating our existing ones. The Maori Party is no exception.
Planning for succession must begin by strengthening our structure and our internal systems to create an environment in which meaningful communication and engagement can happen; where people feel they belong, that they are informed, and are empowered to participate in the process. This is the dream our elders described and it is this work, that is unseen by the public, that will keep our kaupapa safe moving into the future.
While I am quite humbled by our achievements in Parliament working with a Government whose views and beliefs are very different to our own, what drives our passion and our vision are the aspirations of our people; our tikanga, our histories, our korero, and our matauranga.
Ministerial positions are just another site of struggle, with the many other sites of struggle our people are engaged in, which can lead to further change; but it is the Maori Party that has captured my heart, and that has given life to everything that we have been working for as tangata whenua for many generations.
I am here because I feel the responsibility to sustain and further the enthusiasm of those elders who welcomed a truly Maori political party. I feel the responsibility to instil the kaupapa in a new generation and to support that new generation to speak for itself on political issues; but most of all I remain because I have a job to do and a contribution to make to this kaupapa; and the people have asked me to stay.
Many Maori and non-Maori have asked me to stay because they want continuity and stability through a time of transition and consolidation of our work when Tariana steps down. They know my commitment to the kaupapa, and they trust my guidance through this time.
What I know is that these issues are significant enough for us to take the time to deal with them appropriately, and I am unashamed to say that we are Maori and will do this in our uniquely Maori way.
Dr Pita Sharples is co-leader of the Maori Party.