Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell has weighed into the debate over Labour's reshuffle, saying Andrew Little's treatment of the Maori MPs and description of Ratana celebrations as "a bit of a beauty parade" treated Maori with disdain.
Mr Flavell said despite all the "noise" about the promotion of Kelvin Davis, Mr Davis had only moved up one place, the highest ranked Maori was now at seven instead of four, three of the seven Maori MPs were in the bottom ten, and Adrian Rurawhe was only one spot above Phil Goff, who will leave Parliament if he wins the Auckland mayoralty.
"It seems to me that Labour are happy to pocket Maori votes at election time but once they're in Parliament they seem to be put in their place."
He said that was despite Ms Mahuta helping Mr Little win the leadership by publicly backing him after David Cunliffe pulled out of the leadership contest last year.
Mr Flavell said Mr Little's description of the annual pilgrimage of politicians to Ratana as "a bit of a beauty parade" was an indication of Mr Little's attitude toward Maori.
"On the face of it it's pretty demeaning. It shows how little he values tikanga Maori and in particular the historical political alliance between Ratana and Labour. It seems a contradiction that he goes up on the marae and spouts off the views about Labour and Ratana and then come out and talk about it as a beauty parade. That's pretty demeaning. Would he say the same things about a meeting of the Council of Trade Unions? Probably not. So it's not how you honour the legacy of Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana."
However, Te Tai Hauauru MP Adrian Rurawhe, who is the great grandson of TW Ratana, backed up his leader, saying it was true that the politicians' day was "a bit of a showpiece" and more constructive discussion happened outside that day.
"I think he's incredibly honest and it is a bit of a showpiece for Ratana and for the politicians. Its the beginning of the new political year, so it signals that. I don't believe there was anything offensive in there. I'm sure next year at Ratana celebrations he will have the opportunity to talk in a bit more detail about how to strengthen the relationship between Ratana and the Labour Party.
On Radio NZ Mr Little had described the annual pilgrimage of MPs to Ratana for celebrations of the birth of the prophet Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana as a "beauty parade."
Mr Little later said he would attend the Ratana celebrations next January but stood by his comments about the day the politicians visited, saying it was "not very fruitful at the moment."
"We get up there, we do our bits, we make our commitments and then the next time we have contact with each other is one year later." He said he wanted a more substantive conversation during the course of the year and had raised that at last year's commemorations. However, he admitted he had not met with Ratana representatives since then. He said he was still keen to follow through on that.
The links between Ratana and Labour go back to 1936 when an alliance was forged between TW Ratana and then Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage. Former Te Tai Hauauru MP Dame Tariana Turia is morehu and held the seat after she left the Labour Party, but it returned to Labour after her retirement in 2014. New MP Adrian Rurawhe is also morehu and the great grandson of TW Ratana.
Former leader David Shearer had set up semi-regular meetings, including inviting Ratana to Parliament to meet with him at least once.
Ms Mahuta's demotion was also criticised by Waikato-Tainui leader Tukoroirangi Morgan, a former NZ First MP who is now the Maori Party's co-chair of the Hauraki-Waikato electorate. Mr Flavell said Mr Morgan had held that role for about eight months and while it could be a factor in his criticism, Mr Morgan's comments were valid. He said Labour had been out of government for the past seven years which rendered Labour "impotent" in terms of delivering for Maori whereas the Maori Party was willing to work with either side.