The powhiri was awe-inspiring. The wero was fierce. Friend or foe, was the challenge.
Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis is, at the least, no foe to those inside.
Davis was sized up by one, then two, then three inmates at Ngawha prison. Taiaha was thrust and whirled and pukana and whetero followed.
This played out at Ngawha prison today. It was breathtaking, particularly when you consider Davis standing there as the Crown, receiving the challenge from three of the enormous population of Maori men in prison.
There is an argument - and Davis wouldn't challenge it - that the Crown contributed to or did not stop those circumstances which led to Maori making up 51 per cent of our prison population.
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To see Davis challenged as the representative of the Crown, and the challenging inmates a consequence of the Crown's existence, was stunning.
When asked later who he felt a greater affinity with, he said he'd rather be inside drinking tea with those Maori men than skipping from meeting to meeting in Wellington.
Davis had gone to Ngawha prison - the Northland Regional Correctional Facility - to announce spending of $98 million on stopping the hardest, most recidivist prisoners from offending again.
It is a bold and brave move. Other Corrections ministers have done much less, with much lower risk. Davis could have pitched for funding to target the low-hanging fruit and talked up the results.
Instead, he's aiming at the hardest nuts to crack. His kaupapa Maori pathway aims to help Maori men aged under 30, serving between two years and five years in prison, to stop offending.
He wants them to be the men they could be - better fathers, better sons, better husbands. No more lost opportunities.
Politically, getting $98m out of government to develop a kaupapa Maori pathway - a pathway which is not even defined - is almost asking for trouble. Once a pathway is developed, with iwi and by iwi, it is certain it will not be perfect. Each failure carries the risk of political punishment.
Davis jokes about how he's the only person who has ever asked to be Corrections Minister. It may be no joke. It is a portfolio which is a landmine.
"That's why I've gone into politics. I've never believed what we've seen here is the way things should be."
He might not know the men personally but he knows plenty like them. The former Kaitaia school principal says: "They are my cousins, my friends, the kids I taught."
Davis had the backing of nearby Moerewa's son Peeni Henare, whose whakapapa in the north - as he was reminded during speeches - stretches back to his great-grandfather Tau Henare, MP for the former Northern Māori electorate from 1914 to 1938. Henare's Whanau Ora portfolio is critical to this prison plan succeeding.
It stitches together whanau, hapu and iwi involvement and bonds it all together, from the moment an inmate goes inside until long after he comes out. Where Corrections leaves off, the Ministry of Social Development - also involved - will step in. It is overarching, and all embracing.
Along with Davis and Henare was Willow Jean Prime and Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson. The importance of this working to New Zealand should be clear. The necessity of it succeeding for Maori is fundamental.
This importance to Maori politicians - and specifically to Labour's Maori caucus - might explain how Davis got $98m out of Finance minister Grant Robertson for programmes which have no track record because they don't exist.
It might also be the case that Davis, if he can't fix it, isn't interested in being along for the ride. If he can't make a real difference, it is likely he would rather be making change somewhere else. He certainly gives a strong sense he is only in politics to affect genuine change.
He started his speech that way. "I got into politics to make a difference ... a difference to our people."
Perhaps he got the money to try and make that change. It needs to happen.
But without the chance to make a real, significant difference, why would he stay? And if he didn't, what message would that send to those who returned to Labour all those Maori seats?
It was easy to think back to Kelvin Davis, not long after he became Corrections Minister, at the Waitangi Day party hosted by NZ First's Shane Jones.
Jones' party before Waitangi Day is one of the high points of the political year. Some would say it begins the political year.
Politicians from all sides attend. The last few have meant there were a slew of Ministers in attendance, although previous years have always seen a healthy collection.
It's an evening of fine kai, all manner of booze and endless influence peddling. Favour is sought, sometimes extended, gossip exchanged and secrets guarded less than perhaps other occasions might demand.
When Jones held his 2018 party, it was a homecoming of sorts. The host had returned as Minister and his Cabinet member guests had escaped nine years in the wilderness to be the feted ones.
They were kings (and queens) of the world. Iain Lees Galloway in his tight T-shirt and fresh-clipped beard was outwardly projecting the exultant cool almost all were feeling.
Later in the night, when song was breaking free and wiser heads turned for home, the kitchen had emptied of those who had kept it buzzing all night.
There were only a handful left inside and one of those was Davis. He was doing the dishes. Outside, the party carried out without him.
At the time it seemed he simply had no mates. In hindsight, it seems more likely he wasn't really there for the small talk.
When he found himself in the kitchen, there was a job to be done. He got on with it. And when he was done, he left.
What would be the point in hanging around?