The last time polls swung so significantly for a major political party, Māori marched on Parliament in their tens of thousands.

The hikoi on May 5, 2004, was probably also the last time Māori came so close to being completely unified on a political issue.

On that grey blustery day, the Māori political shades of red, white, green, black and blue merged into one, behind a hikoi protesting the Labour Government's proposed Foreshore and Seabed legislation - although at its heart the protest was in response to much more.

The march was the pent-up response to an Orewa speech delivered three months earlier by then National leader Don Brash. The speech launched a dramatic resurgence in the polls for National, and started open political season on attacking "Māori issues" and "Māori privilege".


It was a time when the valve on Māori issues was allowed to steam and boil, and it erupted with Māori unity behind one kaupapa. Ka nui tēnā - enough is enough is what those marching really said.

The hikoi also marked a turning point in an unsavoury period in race relations for the country.

It launched the Māori Party, to provide a voice for Māori when National, Act or New Zealand First again reached for the race card - a plan B if you like - if Labour again lost its voice.

In the following elections support for the Māori Party soared, and by 2008 its dominance in the Māori electorates grew to five out of seven seats. The party went on to help National form the government, and as has been the case for every political party that has supported a major party to form a government since MMP was introduced, support for the party declined.

What has also declined has been the use by some of Māori issues to try to gain votes at election time. In fact a week out from a general election and in celebration of Māori Language Week TV One news like a number of media have run the occasional news story completely in Te Reo Māori. Spark are running an advertisement voiced over completely in Māori in prime time on mainstream TV.

Language is at the glue that binds a culture. This election the Greens and Māori Party have proposed compulsory Te Reo Māori in the country's classrooms. In recent years this would have caused political outrage. It is only a matter of time before this policy is implemented

Today, Māori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell is Minister of Māori Development and Whanau Ora, outside Cabinet, which has resulted in significant increases in funding for these ministries.

The last decade has also seen hundreds of millions in financial compensation and assets returned to iwi and hapu through the Treaty settlement process.

At this election, it has been only New Zealand First who have raised ending the Māori seats as a political issue, calling for a referendum on whether they remain. Come post-election negotiations however, you can guarantee this is not at the top of Winston Peters' bucket list.

Despite the gains, this election the Māori Party again find themselves fighting for political survival. The party is polling between 1 and 2 percent in recent polls, and will only return to Parliament if it wins at least one electorate seat.

Mana Party leader Hone Harawira provides example of how hard life is for political parties when they lose the funding and the attention that comes from being in Parliament.

At the last election, it was the central North island stronghold of Waiariki that ensured the Māori Party remained in Parliament. Waiariki, followed by Te Tai Hauāuru where Howie Tamati is standing, remains the most likely of the Māori seats to resist the continued resurgence across the country of a Jacinda Ardern led Labour Party.

Labour's core messaging on addressing poverty and the housing crisis, are very compelling ones for Māori who disproportionately endure significant deprivation and poverty, and are much less likely to own a home.

Flavell has held the Waiariki seat since 2005. In that time, he has sharpened his political skills, risen to Māori Party co-leadership, and been a hardworking Minister of Māori Development and Whanau Ora. He is up against relative newcomer to the region Tamati Coffey, who is the flash to his predictable.

Tamati unsuccessfully contested the Rotorua general seat at the 2014 election. He has been busy and is an articulate campaigner, however, recent polls show he has had minimal impact on the almost 4000 majority Flavell held at the last election.

The Māori Party have played an important part in New Zealand politics in the past decade. In the week ahead voters must decide whether that continues.

• Jon Stokes is a former Herald reporter who now provides communications and strategy advice to a range of Maori and not-for-profit organisations.