The Labour Party has been welcomed back to Te Tii Marae for the first time in three years after a break which MPs say has allowed ''silliness and personality politics'' to be taken out of the annual Waitangi commemorations.
The MPs were led on to the marae by the party's Māori caucus and the whānau of the late Rudy Taylor, a Ngāpuhi leader and Labour loyalist whose wanted to see the party return to one of the country's most historically significant whare hui.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was, however, not among them. She was due to arrive in Northland last night.
The traditional politicians' welcome at Te Tii Marae became a flashpoint in years gone by with prime ministers jostled by protesters, pelted with mud or snubbing Waitangi altogether.
Starting in 2018, Ngāpuhi resolved to shift the pōwhiri to the Treaty Grounds for what was meant to be a two-year trial.
There are no signs it will move back down the hill to Te Tii Marae anytime soon but yesterday's low-key event may have signalled a new era.
Te Tai Tokerau MP Kelvin Davis said the Government's aim over the past three years had been to direct the focus of Waitangi commemorations away from personalities and back on to Te Tiriti.
Asked if his ultimate goal was to bring the Prime Minister back to the marae, Davis said it would probably happen — but if Ardern did come it would be as Labour leader, not as the PM.
Davis said even veteran activists had told him the break from politicians had been beneficial, because it had allowed the marae to hold its Waitangi Day debates and forums without the nonsense of past years.
''It wasn't even politics, it was just getting silly. It was who could shout the loudest. Waitangi Day was becoming something people dreaded rather than looked forward to. I was really disappointed over preceding years to hear people saying, 'Waitangi is just a big day of disruption and we should change our national day'. What people have seen here over the last three years is that it's a very positive day to celebrate our nation.''
He expected the main welcome would continue to be held at the Treaty Grounds, while it would be up to each party to make their own arrangements at Te Tii Marae.
Tāmaki Makaurau MP Peeni Henare - who is from the Bay of Islands - said he was glad to be back.
''We'd always made it clear in going up to the top marae we would continue to work on our relationship with the whānau down here.''
Despite the change of venue three years ago, the hapū of Ngāti Kawa and Ngāti Rahiri had continued to be involved in the pōwhiri by doing the karanga and providing the kaikōrero (speakers).
Moving the official welcome was the right decision at the time, Henare said.
''We've seen a lot of shenanigans go on here. As somebody whose grandfather used to command the taumata of Ngāpuhi, it's nice to see rangimarie (peace), despite the opportunity to have protests.''
Following time-honoured tradition there was indeed a protest yesterday, with about 40 Ōpua residents calling for council-owned company Far North Holdings to reverse its sale of a piece of land to an overseas developer.
The protesters, a near-even mix of Māori and Pākehā, were led by Anthony Williams, who has been occupying the area known as Puketiti Hill since October.
He said the land should not have been sold without consultation, especially given the four pending Treaty claims in the area.
The march arrived at the marae gates just before the Labour delegation. Williams said he wasn't seeking a hearing from the MPs but would leave the group's placards to do the talking.
The Māori Party was also to have been welcomed at the marae but members cancelled their trip north after some iwi leaders raised concerns about Covid-19.
While the commemorations are going ahead as planned, Covid tracer codes and sanitiser were prominently displayed around Waitangi yesterday.
Today Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will head to Ruapekapeka, south of Kawakawa, to unveil a memorial for British soldiers killed in the historic Battle of Te Ruapekapeka in 1846.