A year ago Jacinda Ardern told Māori to hold her to account - and today she gave iwi leaders the chance to do just that.

Ardern's return to Waitangi after her rapturous inaugural visit as Prime Minister a year ago saw endorsement from Māori for what had been achieved with a reminder much had been promised.

In response, Ardern told representatives from the nation's iwi she was aware of the need to bring change.

"A three-year electoral cycle has the ability to focus the mind," she joked.


Ardern returned to Waitangi this morning to meet about 200 representatives of the Iwi Chairs' Forum.

The meeting is the bedrock of annual Waitangi Day commemorations and has traditionally taken place behind closed doors.

The doors were opened to media today however, to allow the public to witness the hot button issues identified by iwi chairs and how they were presented to Ardern.

The gathering began with Ardern renewing her pledge to Māori, stating her Government placed wellbeing central to its policies and this was a reflection of a Māori world view.

She said it was a realisation which occurred when speaking on wellbeing at Davos.

Jacinda Ardern with a piece of kauri, named Te Aroha, estimated to be 40,000 years old, gifted to her by the Iwi Chairs Forum at Waitangi. Photo / David Fisher
Jacinda Ardern with a piece of kauri, named Te Aroha, estimated to be 40,000 years old, gifted to her by the Iwi Chairs Forum at Waitangi. Photo / David Fisher

Ardern arrived at the meeting with a host of Cabinet support including Crown-Māori Relations Minister Kelvin Davis, Treaty Negotiations Minister Andrew Little, Attorney General and Environment Minister David Parker, Whānau Ora Minister Peeni Henare, Māori Development Minister Nanaia Mahuta and Conservation minister Eugenie Sage.

Iwi leaders presented issues which had been identified through a two-day meeting, presenting Ardern and ministers with issues ranging from whānau ora through to freshwater, global warming and the place Māori had in key government policies.

The overarching message they brought to her - voiced by host and Ngāi Takoto chairman Wallace Rivers - was the ambition "all whānau, communities and individuals can achieve their potential".


It was a notion, Ardern said, "we are trying to embed ... in every single thing we do".

The meeting, which was expected to run until noon, saw iwi leaders challenge Ardern on specific subjects.

Ardern directly responded on those issues, giving up the floor to ministers when specific portfolio assurance or knowledge was required.

Ardern later spoke on the taonga pendant with which she was presented. Called Te Aroha, the middle name of her and partner Clarke Gayford's daughter, it was carved from a 40,000-year-old piece of kauri.

"It staggered me," said Ardern of the age of the kauri piece. "It's been named Te Aroha so I know who this is really intended for."

Ardern said the message from Māori had been to ensure the bonds were not just built with ministers but with staff in departments.

"There are some incredibly strong relationships being forged here."

This year's commemorations mark the 179th year since the Treaty of Waitangi was signed.