Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern emerged from her first meeting with iwi leaders saying it was "warm and practical" but thornier issues such as Maori interests in an upcoming levy on bottled water were not addressed.

Ardern said the conversation had focused on areas they could work together, such as children, housing, water quality and climate change.

She said the issue of the ownership of water had not come up, but it was a long-standing issue and work would continue on that.

The iwi forum has been in talks with the Government over water rights for years.


The former National Government's position was that nobody owned water, but Labour's election policy to charge for the commercial use of water, such as for irrigation, led to iwi suggesting that was a form of ownership right and Maori interests had to be worked out.

That policy for commercial water charges was shelved as part of NZ First's demands under the coalition agreement, but the Government intends to go ahead with a levy on exports of bottled water.

Asked if the iwi leaders had raised the question of whether they should have a stake in that levy, Ardern said it was not raised during the meeting and was a hypothetical question.

"Our position continues to be the same. Everybody has a stake in water but we acknowledge that particularly Maori do which is why I have no doubt we will keep having that conversation. But right now, [water] quality is a huge part of that focus."

Te Aupouri's Maahia Nathan, the forum spokesman this year, said the PM was received warmly but issues such as bottled water charges and Maori rights were yet to be discussed.

"It's not something that I think is a priority at the moment. At the moment it's about developing our relationship."

He said that issue would create some tension between individual iwi and the Government in the future but it was the Prime Minister's first visit to the forum so the focus was on that relationship.

Prior to the meeting there was some concern among iwi leaders about the new relationship after nine years of a National government.


The iwi chairs forum wrote to Ardern last year out of concern about the attitude some new ministers were taking to the forum, including insisting it focus more on the social wellbeing of their people rather than Maori constitutional rights.

Ardern said she had not felt any tension in the meeting. The aim was to work out where the Government and iwi could work on Labour's new priorities rather than those of the previous Government.

"I certainly didn't feel any tension at all. Perhaps I'm being an optimist but I felt only warmth and some hope in that room and we are going to make sure we make the most of that welcome."

After the meeting, Ngapuhi leader Sonny Tau said he did not believe the Labour Government had fully understood the mandate of the iwi leaders and believed that because Labour had high support among Maori politically they represented Maoridom.

"One of the myths they had is that they have a significant mandate from Maori because they have the seven seats. And that's a point. However, they are the Crown. They don't represent the iwi."

He believed Ardern now appreciated the distinction.

Ardern was new to many of the topics and had given some "diplomatic" answers in some cases, but had committed to continuing a lot of the work the iwi leaders were looking at which was pleasing.

The Iwi Leaders were Ardern's first meeting in a day in which she also met with the Maori Wardens, the mayors of Northland and Maori Women's Welfare League.

At the powhiri for the Iwi Leaders' Forum, Ardern also added to the tally of baby names she has been given.

It was suggested by Te Aupouri's Waitai Petera to Ardern that she name her baby Waimirirangi - the woman many Northern tribes are descended from and known as the Queen of the North.

In response, Minister of Crown-Maori Relations Kelvin Davis said it was a lovely name if the baby was a female and they could only hope the baby was not a boy or Ardern would have to call it Sonny - a joke at the expense of Ngapuhi leader Sonny Tau.