National leader Bill English has been given a tongue lashing at Ratana for his comments that te reo Maori was "somebody else's language".

English led a slender 20-strong delegation onto Ratana - the place he has returned to almost every time since 2001.

Speaking during the powhiri, Kingitanga spokesman Rahui Papa was quick to observe the change in English's status from Prime Minister to the Opposition.

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He said after nine years of attending as a Government minister, he applauded English for returning as Leader of Opposition.

"Some people with lesser mettle might have hidden away but you have returned to face the music."

However, English got a tongue lashing for his recent comments on te reo Maori.

Papa said English should be an advocate for the language rather than dismiss it as "somebody else's".

"We still need your support for the aspirations and goals of Maoridom even though you sit in Opposition.

"We say to you, Bill, some people are saying 'Bill English is going to be bloody well talking about Te Reo Maori. I say te reo Maori is ingrained in the very earth of this nation. And I say it belongs to all New Zealanders.

"It doesn't just belong to Maori, it belongs to everybody. And everybody should recognise it and share in the bounty of te reo Maori.

"It's not good enough to just get up and say Kia Ora and tena koutou, tena koutou and tena koutou. Actually there has been a commitment over the years and we implore you to support the aspirations of te reo Maori, te Ao Maori [the Maori world]."

English - a semi-fluent Te Reo Maori speaker - began with an extended mihi, drily observing he was Bill English "leader of the Opposition" to some laughter.

He pointed out he had been going to Ratana since 2001 and acknowledged that when he was invited back last year, the church probably had not anticipated his drop in position or Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's rise.

In the lead-up to the anniversary, English said he believed Labour did not support any great degree of Maori independence or rangatiratanga.

English told the followers that National believed Maori should have independence to help themselves rather than rely on the Government and had worked to ensure that.

He said Maori were self-confident and did not need grants or handouts.

"You have a Government that many Maori voted for, obviously. But be careful that it's not a step back. That you don't become believers again in Government and its cash and the lure of its influence when what we have seen flourishing is rangatiratanga."

He said in a way it could be harder to deal with the new Government because "they are family".

"The politics, there are a lot of relatives, it's all intertwined."

"From the distant benches of Opposition, we'll be watching. Because having been on that hikoi on the Crown side there is no doubt the best thing for New Zealand is that momentum of confidence and self-determination is maintained."

After the powhiri, English said he had meant that the relationship between Maori and National was pragmatic whereas the relationship with Labour was more complex.

"With Labour there's a lot of historical ties, there's a lot of iwi and personal and family connections in politics and it will just be harder for them to get things done.

"Over the next couple of years I think that will be a quite a test for the new Government, as to whether they can work with a more confident Maoridom, who know what they want, pretty good at knowing how to get it on the one hand, and the Labour Party on the other hand ... who now they've won the Maori seats back have the instinct to want to control Maori and make them more dependent on Government."

Asked about English's comments that Labour would foster dependence rather than Maori independence, Ardern said it was up to Maori to decide that.

He acknowledged the 100th anniversary of the divine revelation Ratana had in 1918 that led to the founding of the Church in 1925.