Politicians have been welcomed onto Ratana Pa and while there was little sign of the anti Trans Pacific Partnership protestors some expected, there was reference to the controversial trade agreement inside the pa.
Security was higher than in the past with more Police present and Maori wardens forming a cordon to stop people crossing over to the politicians' tent. However the organisers had made it clear beforehand that protest at the peaceful hui was not part of the protocol and there was little sign of discontent, beyond a peaceful group outside the gates.
Instead the Ratana morehu waited until the politicians were seated in a tent under the beating sun to voice their concerns from the paepae.
Rahui Papa, of Taunui, said if the sun was hot at Ratana, so were the topics being spoken of. He called for the signing to be delayed until the public had a chance to digest it.
"Closed door negotiations don't work for Maori, Prime Minister. One of the snags has been the lack of information and dialogue around this.
I ask, no I implore you, to take the pulse of the people and delay the signing until a comprehensive discussion and debate with all of those across the country can be held."
He said Maori were "no strangers to entrepreneurial pursuits."
However, more information was needed before people could decide if the agreement was suitable.
"We are no stranger to free trade agreements from the 1800s. We want to see the opportunities not only for Maori, but for us as New Zealanders."
Another speaker said he hoped the mana of the nation would be retained when the agreement was signed on February 4.
"We can only talk to each other, if we know what is being talked about." He called for cross party alignment on the issue.
Speaking before going onto the marae, Labour leader Andrew Little said the timing of the signing of the Trans Pacific Partnership on February
4 was "arrogant provocation."
He said that was just two days before Waitangi Day, a day that marked New Zealand sovereignty. He also criticised the venue of the Sky City Convention Centre as another provocative decision Mr Peters also questioned the need for the signing, given uncertainty about its future in the United States. "It is a scam, it's a sham and it may well be a total waste of time. It's more for show than substance."
Trade Minister Todd McClay was also at the event, seated in the front row with the party leaders. Mr McClay has promised to undertake a road trip to explain the trade agreement to those concerned by it.
The annual visit to the pa to commemorate the birth date of the prophet Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana also marks the kick off of the political year.
This year all politicians were welcomed on together rather than in separate groups of Government and Opposition MPs. Labour's Andrew Little had a shaky lead-up to the event, after he described it as a 'beauty parade' - a comment that attracted ire from Rahui Papa for its flippancy. Labour tried to make up for that by sporting stickers to mark the 80th anniversary since the alliance between Ratana and Labour was forged in 1936. Mr Little also promised to 'reinvigorate' the relationship between the party and the Ratana movement and turn it into a relationship that was not simply symbolic. However, the morehu in Labour, Rino Tirikatene, Louisa Wall, and Adrian Rurawhe, are among the lowest ranked in Labour's caucus. Mr Little said the movement was about improving the place of Maori across the board and four of the party's Maori electorate MPs were ranked at Cabinet level.
Labour leader Andrew Little has kicked off his talk at the Ratana celebrations with a bit of an apology for his description of the event as a "bit of a beauty parade."
Mr Little used the phrase last year and was criticised for it today by one of those speaking from the Ratana marae for his flippancy.
After he rose to speak, Mr Little said he wanted to explain his comments and was not referring to the morehu but the politicians for treating it as a beauty parade.
He also used his address to talk about workers' conditions and the Trans Pacific Partnership and Labour's main sticking point - the implications it would have on Labour's policy to ban foreign buyers from buying New Zealand land.
He said he felt a great "sense of responsibility to fulfil the legacy of the agreement between TW Ratana and Michael Joseph Savage."
He said that was an obligation to have a discussion that would make a difference and invited the morehu to Wellington to meet with him for more meaningful discussions.
He also took the opportunity to announce Labour planned to extend its existing policy to pay employers the equivalent of the dole if they took on young apprentices so more were eligible."
However, his time had a sticky moment when the envelope containing his koha blew off after he placed it on the ground.
"That's our first surplus blowing away," he joked.
Prime Minister John Key mounted a strident defence of the Trans Pacific Partnership at Ratana, ranging from tapping into trans Tasman rivalry to pointing to the trading history of Maori.
As the signing of the agreement looms, the Government has started its selling pitch for the agreement.
After he was tackled on the issue by other speakers at the Ratana gathering, Mr Key responded with an impassioned speech trying to convince Maori that rights under the Treaty of Waitangi would not be affected.
However, he was boo-ed twice, most loudly after saying "I'm here to tell you the truth, and the truth is we need that" - a rare reaction at the Ratana celebrations.
In response, Mr Key resorted to trans Tasman rivalry saying New Zealand could say no "but I'll tell you who'll sell those products: Australia."
Mr Key pointed to the $40 billion Maori economy, such as Ngati Apa's farming interests, and said they would miss out if New Zealand was not in the agreement.
"You have huge interests now through the treaty settlements process and they're going to get bigger. But nobody owes this country a living. We have to make our way in the world. And Maori have been some of the most successful hungry traders this country has ever produced.
There is nothing to fear in that."
Tainui's Rahui Papa had raised the trade agreement in his speech from the marae, asking Key to delay the signing until all New Zealand had a proper chance to debate it. Mr Papa said Maori were not necessarily opposed to the agreement, given they themselves had traded through history. However, he said not enough was known to make a call on it.
Mr Key said Treaty rights were protected in the agreement.
"Not a single part of TPP cuts across the Treaty of Waitangi."
The trade ministers of the 12 countries involved in the controversial trade agreement will meet at the Sky City Convention Centre to sign the agreement on February 4 - just two days before Waitangi Day.
That prompted speculation of protests at Ratana and Te Tii Marae elder Kingi Taurua warned the Government would not be welcome at Te Tii for Waitangi Day if the signing went ahead. Labour leader Andrew Little also described the timing and location of the signing as "arrogant provocation" given Waitangi Day was a day when sovereignty was top of mind.
Mr Key said earlier that the timing was driven by the availability of ministers from other countries and the Sky City Convention Centre was chosen because it could hold a lot of people and because of security arrangements, given the expected protestors.
He told media he believed TPP was very good for Maori and it would not roll over Treaty rights. Every trade agreement since 2001 had protected the Treaty.
Mr Key will also have to again confront the issue of water rights when the Government holds its meetings with the Iwi Leaders Group over Waitangi weekend. At Ratana, Mr Key pledged to honour Maori rights and interests in water where they existed.
The Government has ruled out any national settlement on water and maintains nobody owns it.