Maori Battalion veteran Selwyn Clarke sent a call to arms of sorts to Maori gathered at Turangawaewae Marae yesterday trying to find a unified position on water.
The A Company veteran from Ngapuhi, who is almost 90 and went to war aged 13, received a standing ovation when he told the crowd of 1000: "In the war, our leader said to us ... 'Your job is to put your life on the line for the people'. And you did that.
"There's three of us left from A Company, and today I'm asking you not to put your lives on the line but put your wairua [spirit] on the line. I would like to see that before I die because I think of my mates every morning when I wake up."
Mr Clarke was the most eloquent of the speakers yesterday, but many echoed his plea.
Dame Iritana Tawhiwhirangi from Ngati Porou hoped the sense of unity could last. "I haven't come here today to 'let us all work together' and then tomorrow out there we're all having a scrap with each other. We're talking about unity in this room but by Jove we've got a lot of work to do."