Some iwi leaders say criticism of the Iwi Leaders Forum by some Labour ministers is not helpful but hope the forum's first meeting with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at Waitangi will put it to rest.

Ardern is due to meet with the tribal leaders in the Iwi Leaders' Forum at Waitangi on Friday for the first time.

The National Party regularly met the forum to discuss issues from land and water rights to Treaty settlements but Labour MPs have criticsed it in the past for failing to address social issues, describing it as elitist and unrepresentative of Maori.

In December, Maori Development Minister Nanaia Mahuta said it was failing to do its job properly by focusing on issues such as water rights at the expense of social issues.


She and Treaty Negotiations Minister Andrew Little have told the forum to focus instead on issues such as poverty and employment under Labour.

Willie Jackson has claimed it did not represent urban Maori and NZ First MP Shane Jones said last year "Halley's Comet will be back" before he would meet the forum again after it raised the issue of NZ First blocking Labour's wish to charge a water levy, something some leaders believed would allow Maori interests to be recognised.

It is understood Jones, whose Te Aupouri iwi is hosting this year's forum, will avoid the meeting today so it does not detract from the PM's visit.

Te Aupouri's Maahia Nathan, the spokesman for the forum this year, said comments made by the ministers were "unhelpful" but it was critical to have a stable relationship with government.

He said the leaders were keen to hear how the Government's priorities aligned with its own four "pou" (foundation poles) of the environment, economic growth, cultural issues and social issues.

He did not know what the change of government would mean on issues such as water until he had heard from Ardern and other ministers. However, he dismissed National leader Bill English's comments that Labour would erode the rangatiratanga Maori were developing under National, saying English "had his turn".

He gave Ardern points for attending Waitangi for five days, saying it showed she was genuine.

Jacinda Ardern is due to meet with the tribal leaders in the Iwi Leaders' Forum at Waitangi on Friday for the first time. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Jacinda Ardern is due to meet with the tribal leaders in the Iwi Leaders' Forum at Waitangi on Friday for the first time. Photo / Mark Mitchell

John Tamihere, Ngati Porou Ki Hauraki, said iwi chairs could be in for a shock "after nine years of having their egos massaged by the National Government".


He believed the focus of the leaders would have to change under the new Government.

"They are going to have to start to concentrate on [Ardern's] priority, which is poverty.

"So instead of talking about their trees and their fish and their water, I want them to start talking about their kids and their mokopuna."

He said Maori had voted for Labour in hordes, giving them all seven Maori seats. "The Maori nation has spoken. I think the [iwi leaders'] heightened view of themselves will be [deflated]."

Ngati Hine leader Pita Tipene said the attitude of Labour ministers was concerning.

"Any government that is going to be dismissive of relationships at a strategic level, it will be eventually at their own peril."

However, he was hoping for the best. "I think Jacinda Ardern brings great hope actually in terms of where we are going as a nation and the importance she is giving to Northland."

Ngarimu Blair, deputy chairman of Ngati Whatua o Orakei, said he was pleased the new Government's priorities were housing and poverty because they were major issues for Auckland Maori.

Labour and National were "different characters" and there were diverse views about the change of government among the iwi leaders.

Despite Jones' comments, Blair said his iwi planted about 30,000 trees a year on its land and would be keen to get involved in any tree-planting initiatives under Jones' proposal to plant one billion trees over 10 years.

Ardern's travel to Northland was disrupted by the weather but she was hoping to arrive last night. After meeting iwi leaders she will also meet the Maori Wardens, Maori Womens' Welfare League and the mayors of Northland, kicking off a five-day visit to the north which will end on Waitangi Day.

It will be the first time a Prime Minister has attended on Waitangi Day since former PM John Key in 2015.