Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has ended her historic speech at Waitangi by asking those there to hold her to account to prove she earned the right to speak at the marae.

Ardern was the first female prime minister to be given the right to speak at the marae after prolonged discussions. Usually only men are able to speak in powhiri.

She promised to continue meeting with Maori around the country.

"So when we return in one year, in three years, I ask you to ask us what we have done for you.

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"Hold us to account. Because one day I want to be able to tell my child that I earned the right to stand here. And only you can tell me when I have done that."

The Prime Minister said they should hold her to account on issues such as child poverty, the environment and prison rates.

It was a peaceful powhiri, watched by about 150 locals and tourists.

Ardern was welcomed on to the upper marae on the Treaty grounds mid-morning after already spending three days in Northland.

She began her speech at the marae at Waitangi with an extended introduction in te reo Maori, using cue cards to ensure it was correct.

She acknowledged the local iwi and hapu and those who had taken her onto the marae.

"I do not take lightly the privilege extended to me to speak ... today, not only as a Prime Minister but as a wahine."

It is the first time a female prime minister has been allowed to speak during a powhiri at the marae.

Ardern also acknowledged her governing parties, NZ First and the Greens.

"As a Government, we have been here for five days. We did not come simply for the beauty and hospitality of the north. We came because there is work to do. And we will only achieve what needs to be done together."

She said those days had canvassed education, health, housing, roads and jobs and now action was required. "This is the beginning for our Government and I thank you."

The Prime Minister said Labour had not created the new ministerial role of iwi-Crown relations lightly.

While some iwi - including Ngapuhi - were yet to settle, the Crown also had to ensure it upheld the terms of the settlements it had signed.

She promised the relationship and responsibility would "continue on with strength and hope."

Family ties to Waitangi

Ardern said her father had brought her and her sister to the Treaty grounds as a child "because he had a great love of history".

She recalled her father handing her the camera to take a photo of her parents there.

"Just as I was about to take the photo he grabbed my mother in the most public display of affection. Kissed her full on the lips just as I was about to take the photo, embarrassing me and my sister immensely."

She said she hoped her own children and others would have memories of the place and learn the history of the Treaty and New Zealand.

Ardern was welcomed onto the marae after spending three days in Northland. Photo / Dean Purcell
Ardern was welcomed onto the marae after spending three days in Northland. Photo / Dean Purcell

"That is our history and we must always be honest about our history and what it means to us."

Ardern said she also hoped they would learn the importance of manaakitanga - of hospitality, generosity and sharing.

"And I hope they know we value the ability to speak frankly and openly with each other. We should never shy away from that because if we don't speak freely as a nation we will never learn."

Ardern also spoke of the problems facing Maori and "the distance between us" - referring to employment and incarceration levels.

"I inherently believe in the power of change. And I hope not only that my child will believe in that too, but that they will see that change."

Historic powhiri

Earlier this morning the powhiri for Ardern and other MPs began with a series of wero (challenges) for the Government parties.

Clarke Gayford accepts the challenge as the Government is welcomed to Waitangi. Photo / Dean Purcell
Clarke Gayford accepts the challenge as the Government is welcomed to Waitangi. Photo / Dean Purcell

Ardern's partner Clarke Gayford picked up the wero set down for Ardern, a leafy branch laid on the ground by a warrior.

It is customary for only males to take part in the wero, a process to determine whether the visitor is friend or foe.

NZ First Leader Winston Peters and Greens co-leader James Shaw also accepted wero.

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters welcomed to Waitangi. Photo / Dean Purcell
Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters welcomed to Waitangi. Photo / Dean Purcell

The parties were greeted with a fierce haka by the warrior waka paddlers.

Ardern was escorted by Titewhai Harawira and Dame Naida Glavish and was seated on the maho (porch) at the front of the whare runanga (meeting house).

'A very special occasion'

Ardern followed her first formal welcome at Waitangi as Prime Minister with a picnic lunch surrounded by 180 excited schoolchildren.

Ardern was a guest of Paihia School this afternoon, where she was first welcomed into the school whare, then invited to join the kids for lunch on the school field.

There was little chance for the PM to tuck into the contents of her lunchbox, however, as she was besieged by kids wanting autographs or answers to curly questions such as her favourite colour (yellow), favourite fruit (peaches) and whether she knew about the Waitangi Mountain Bike Park (she does now).

Seven-year-old Thea Holland, of Paihia, gave Ardern a necklace she had made.

She knew the school's famous guest because she had seen her on the TV news.
"It was really fun to meet Jacinda. She's really pretty, she's nice and she's smart."

Ardern was joined by several of her ministers and MPs, including Kelvin Davis, Willow-Jeam Prime, Chris Hipkins and Tamati Coffey, along with speaker of the house Trevor Mallard and Green Party leader James Shaw.

Principal Jane Lindsay said being able to welcome the Prime Minister into the school whare, then share a picnic with her, was "a very special occasion".

"We had a very excited school today."

Earlier today

Ardern told Mike Hosking on Newstalk ZB she expected practical measures to follow from the extended visit. She had met Northland mayors as well as Maori groups about the economic development needs of the region and Treaty Negotiations Minister Andrew Little had met Ngapuhi leaders to try to progress settlement talks.

Ardern and some of her senior ministers have been up since February 1 as part of a five-day visit to introduce her to Northland, in particular Maoridom.

Greens leader James Shaw accepts the challenge as the Government is welcomes to Waitangi. Photo / Dean Purcell
Greens leader James Shaw accepts the challenge as the Government is welcomes to Waitangi. Photo / Dean Purcell

Ardern told Breakfast the visit was a privilege and personally significant to her, having visited the grounds since she was a young child.

"But this is not a one-off for us. We will be back. It's one day of many in a year where we need to demonstrate we are fulfilling people's expectations."

She did not know if there would be protests but did not believe Waitangi Day should be perfect.

"One of the things I feel quite strongly about is that we seem to seek perfection in Waitangi Day. That for 364 days of the year we speak openly, we are quite frank about one another, we embrace our freedom and contest of ideas. And then on one day of the year if any of that happens we think we've somehow failed."

She said the contest of ideas should be celebrated. "So if there is protest, that won't bother me."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is welcomed on to the upper marae at Waitangi. Photo / Dean Purcell
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is welcomed on to the upper marae at Waitangi. Photo / Dean Purcell

In 1998, former Labour leader Helen Clark was pushed to tears after there were objections to allowing her to speak on Te Tii Marae.

One of those objecting was Titewhai Harawira, who will this morning escort Ardern in the powhiri, as she has escorted previous Prime Ministers on to Te Tii Marae.

It is one of the few nods to Te Tii Marae, which had the hosting rights removed this year after a series of protests and problems with access for politicians and media.

During the powhiri, National MP Steven Joyce spoke for the Opposition contingent of about 12 MPs.

Joyce got some laughs with a reference to his visit in 2016 when he was hit by a dildo thrown by a protester. He said every politician had had some unique moments at Waitangi: "One of mine is probably a bit more unique than most. And hopefully for all of you, it stays that way."

He said he had taken the precaution of "bringing a couple of catchers with me."

Joyce spoke of the beauty of Waitangi and said the country was in a strong position.

He said the Ngapuhi settlement needed to be progressed, saying it would not solve all the problems in the region but it would help.

He made an oblique reference to National's record, talking about economic growth, progress in areas such as NCEA and local regional measures.

"My view is we will not have met the promise of the Treaty until every single one of the young people has the opportunity to meet their potential."

Green Party leader James Shaw also spoke during the powhiri.

When introducing himself he joked he could be called Hemi Takutai - takutai meaning shore.

Shaw acknowledged the Waitangi Tribunal's stage one report that Ngapuhi did not cede sovereignty to the Crown.

"It is about a relationship and as we do draw towards the conclusion of the settlement process we see that as the beginning not as the end."

NZ First MP Shane Jones spoke for his party, welcoming Ardern to Waitangi.

"You have certainly put a smile on the face of Waitangi today."

He recalled his past protest years climbing a tree on the Waitangi grounds "with a furious Winston Peters looking up."

"But hey, look what time does."

Jones also acknowledged local elder Hector Busby, saying he brought to mind the history of the place.

He said history flowed through the veins of those now living in the North "but we are only custodians of ... the Treaty of Waitangi."