I remember when we first made it back into Parliament, going against the red tsunami, the template to campaigning was rewritten. We showed you could succeed from an energised grassroots campaign built on an advanced understanding of social media.
In fact, of the top four candidates who closed the gap or in the case of Waiariki succeeded it, three were from Te Pāti Māori, Rawiri Waititi, John Tamihere and myself, in the midst of predominantly red strongholds. From day one we took that unapologetic Māori tick of approval as voters wanting the big parties held to account. In Rawiri's maiden speech he made it known that as a small party we planned to be the Government's "pebble in the shoe".
In Aotearoa, every government formed since 1935 has been led by a blue or red party. Even with the introduction of MMP, small parties often struggle to gain traction and break through the entrenched advantages that big parties maintain. With more resource, smaller electorates if you're in the blue camp, and well established processes and blueprints – it's an uphill battle.
But, more and more we are seeing a significant shift from mainstream parties and politics of the stale flavour. In countries like Australia, we've recently seen a real rise in the strength of small parties. In Ireland and other nations we are seeing the ascendancy of pro-independence movements.
A decolonising tide is sweeping the Caribbean as nations like Barbados remove the Queen as their head of state.
We are seeing a shift where career politicians are being ousted, where people are looking for fresh new ideas to deal with the problems that hold us back.
The political climate is changing, and so too are voters.
Recently consecutive polls have confirmed voters in Aotearoa want Te Pāti Māori as a key player in the formation of the next government. This is despite us having an electoral system that struggles to enable tangata whenua to have their views fully debated in the public sphere.
And so it is up to us as a small party to be that "pebble in the shoe" and provide a Tiriti-centric vision that is different from the mainstream political parties. To scrutinise legislation that should be advancing our people, to ensure that all law honours and implements our founding covenant and constitutional foundation, Te Tiriti o Waitangi.
Examples of this include, for example, when we have been debating the Pae Ora legislation.
Our people have never had a place to stand within the health system. Generations of Māori have faced institutional racism and systemic barriers that have led to persistent inequities and entrenched health disparities for tangata whenua.
The real-world impact of this is devastating. We're dying young from cancers, from third-world diseases, but worst of all, from neglect, from indifference, from racist practices and racist people. Our people die on average at least seven years younger than non-Māori.
That is why a new vision for the health system and Māori health was put forward by Tā Mason Durie, a rangatira who has spent his life fighting and advocating fiercely for hauora Māori.
That is why Te Pāti Māori supported Tā Mason's vision and included the Māori Health Authority in our policy manifesto in the 2020 election.
However, from the outset Māori health experts expressed their concern that this bill is a huge missed opportunity to make urgent changes toward a sustainable, equitable and Tiriti-honouring health system that works for all. To do this it needed to not shy away from inserting "Tino rangatiratanga" into the bill – it needed to invest more than 2 per cent of the overall health spend to serve a people who make up more than 17 per cent of the population.
We cannot achieve self-determination and self-sufficiency, our tino rangatiratanga, when our resources and decision-making mandate is channelled through a Pākehā bureaucracy in the Ministry of Health.
We put forward a series of amendments that would have prevented this, but they were voted down. However, we are supporting the Bill through Parliament because of the huge progress this represents for Māori health and improving public service delivery in Aotearoa.
This legislation is the perfect example of how we will always challenge and push further as the pebble in the shoe, even when we support the direction of travel.
We will continue to hold the Government to account and work with them where we can agree, and support their ideas when they make sense (or when they took it straight out of our manifesto!).
We will continue to fight for an Aotearoa hou, a nation where tangata whenua are free to live as our true selves.
A nation where we are trusted to manage ourselves, look after ourselves and use the wisdom of our tupuna to create a better future for our tamariki mokopuna.
• Debbie Ngarewa-Packer is co-leader of Te Pāti Māori.