Members of Parliament have been left in tears as they heard a bill pardoning and apologising to Tūhoe prophet and leader Rua Kēnana.

A waiata broke out in the public gallery of the House after politicians unanimously passed the legislation at its first reading on Thursday.

Kēnana was wrongfully arrested when 70 armed police officers invaded Maungapōhatu, in the Bay of Plenty in 1916. His son Toko Rua and Maipi Te Whiu were killed in an exchange of gunfire, and 31 others were taken into custody.

Charges against Kēnana were dismissed after a 47-day trial but he was later sentenced to hard labour and 18 months' jail on an allegation of "moral resistance".

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The legislation pardoning him was part of an agreement between the Government and Ngā Toenga o Ngā Tamariki a Iharaira me ngā Uri o Maungapōhatu Charitable Trust in 2017 and also includes an apology to his descendants and a declaration restoring their mana and reputation.

The bill is outside the Treaty settlement system and includes no financial redress.

Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta holds back tears as Parliament hears a bill pardoning Tūhoe prophet and leader Rua Kēnana. Video / ParliamentTV

Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta held back tears as she described how the stigma of the conviction continued to affect Kēnana's descendants, community and his Iharaira faith – which went into a period of decline after the arrest.

"This incident has been described by some historians of the New Zealand Wars," Mahuta said.

"It is an incident that has dwelled in Tūhoe memories."

Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson was, too, left in tears as she spoke, staff bringing her tissues.

"I want my children to know your story, because it is our story," she said.

The last speaker on Thursday, Labour's Tamati Coffey, led the House in a minute of song ahead of the vote.

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Soon after, members of Tūhoe watching in the public gallery began their own waiata, followed by a booming haka.

Earlier on Thursday, the Government unveiled a plaque commemorating the New Zealand Wars in Parliament's debating chamber.

While the House had featured signs commemorating battles New Zealanders have fought in around the world, it didn't have any memorialising the domestic conflicts of the mid-19th century.