National Party leader John Key has promised Maori that Treaty settlements will be a focus of any future National government - but the elders at Ratana Pa yesterday made it clear he was still viewed with suspicion.
Politicians travelled to Ratana Pa as part of the commemorations for the birthday of the prophet Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana, who founded the Ratana Movement and first forged links with the Labour Party in the 1930s.
Despite Maori Party leader and Ratana morehu (follower) Tariana Turia claiming politicians were "gatecrashing" the event to get votes, politics was very present at Ratana from both visitors and the morehu themselves.
Both Mr Key and Prime Minister Helen Clark attended - one to try to build trust among Maori and the other to deliver the annual "stocktake" of how Labour had delivered to the Ratana movement in return for its loyalty.
Mr Key attended with eight of his fellow MPs in tow, including deputy leader Bill English, Tau Henare, Treaty negotiations spokesman Christopher Finlayson and supporter Hekia Parata.
Addressing the movement, Mr Key said Labour's record on Treaty of Waitangi settlements was slow, recalling the story of Ratana giving Michael Joseph Savage four symbolic gifts, including a broken watch to reflect the broken promise of the Treaty.
"If ever in modern New Zealand there was an opportunity to make good on those gifts of Ratana, then it is the settlement process. I think the process has stalled ... If we are in a position to change those things, we intend to take the process of Treaty settlements very seriously."
He said National would ensure the Waitangi Tribunal was properly resourced and any Cabinet minister chosen to handle the negotiations would be someone "with mana whois respected by Maori".
Education and economic development would also be a focus of National's Maori policies.
Later, Helen Clark defended the Government's progress on Treaty issues, saying the appointment of Michael Cullen as the Minister for Treaty Negotiations signalled Labour's desire to complete all historic settlements by 2020, and Labour was "stepping up a notch" to do so.
She said several significant settlements had been reached, including the Waikato River claim. "I'm confident that we now have a lot of momentum in Treaty settlements."
Dr Cullen also said progress was being made, and he expected several further Treaty-related announcements in coming weeks.
Helen Clark was welcomed on to the marae soon after Mr Key, with numerous caucus colleagues including Government department representatives and senior Cabinet ministers - Michael Cullen, Parekura Horomia, Annette King, Trevor Mallard, and Chris Carter.
There were about 120 in the retinue, compared with about 20 who attended for National - prompting one elder to note, "I look out and I know it must be election year because there's so many people here."
Helen Clark's speech focused on reminding Maori what Labour had delivered for them, including its education policies, low unemployment, the asset base Maori had built up from Treaty settlements, and its consultation on issues such as climate change.
This election year is the second Labour will face with the Maori Party also running - and the creation of the party has weakened the traditional bond between Labour and Ratana.
Helen Clark said her party had no intention of giving up on fighting for the Maori seats and instead concentrating on the party vote, saying it had strong candidates nominated to run.
"We do our best to honour the pact between our movement and the Ratana movement. It is a more complex multiparty environment than the 1930s, obviously."
While the Prime Minister was on her 15th annual visit, it was Mr Key's second visit to Ratana. He arrived looking more relaxed than on his first visit, beginning the day by sitting on the grass talking to children in the brass band, speaking without speech notes, including a Maori welcome, and making jokes about National members' singing abilities.
However, Ratana elders were not so easy to charm, and several made it clear in their welcomes that judgment was reserved on whether National's warmer face towards Maori was genuine.
Joe Everitt, a Ngapuhi morehu, said he had a message for Mr Key:
"A small bird says it is possible John Key could be the next Prime Minister. Kia ora, I wish you luck. Should you become the Government, all the laws that you set down for Maori, please ensure you have full consultation with te iwi Maori.
"Many of us in our communities are not as well spoken as some of the others, but we too have our own minds too, our thoughts and ideas."
Mr Key acknowledged the concern, saying, "We come on the basis of respect."