It was refreshing to hear Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern say yesterday that she did not fear or disagree with protest on the lead-up to Waitangi Day.

All her predecessors have at times voiced the desire for it to be a day of peace and unity and holding hands and singing rounds of Oma Rapeti.

Ardern's argument was that protest was all right on every other day of the year so we should not "strive for perfection" on the one day that was Waitangi Day.

She repeated the sentiment in her speech during the powhiri at the Upper Marae, where the welcome for politicians was moved because of the risk of protests going overboard at Te Tii Marae.


At the Upper Marae the mood is serious. Te Tii is a sprawling mass of people from all walks of life, hanging around listening and sometimes protesting. There are flags and banners and noise.

It is lively and robust and often uncomfortable.

It felt strange skipping it this year.

It was the platform for local Maori (and often those from further afield) to vent frustration at what the Government was doing.

The Foreshore and Seabed Act, the Trans Pacific Partnership, former National leader Don Brash's infamous "one law for all" speech were all chewed over vigorously at Te Tii.

It was where the Maori Party was celebrated when it was formed - and then called "traitor" after it signed up with National and the son of the North, Hone Harawira, jumped ship.

The Upper Marae was always reserved for the more solemn occasions of the Dawn Service and other events that were more about prayer than politics.

So when the politicians started touching on politics it felt slightly like shouting in the library: not the done thing.


This year politics was on mute - the people were giving the new PM a chance. Ardern had spoken of nerves. Her partner, Clarke Gayford, also later admitted to nerves at having to accept the were [challenge] on her behalf. There were small touches - both Ardern and Clarke wore the pounamu bracelet and pendant gifted to them two days earlier by Ngati Manu at Karetu Marae.

Then Ardern delivered a speech of hope and promise. She spoke of change and her belief in it.

There was little by way of concrete action and speeches of hope and change sound hollow if they are not delivered well.

Ardern is one of the few who can do that. It was almost perfectly pitched.

But speeches of hope also build high expectation, especially when delivered with conviction, because people believe it truly can happen.

The people at Waitangi have heard it all before, although not always so eloquently put.

The challenge now is ensuring those words do not join the massive scrapheap of empty platitudes that have gone before.