By AUDREY YOUNG



Helen Clark sat down with Titewhai Harawira in Auckland on Wednesday, probably with a mug of tea in hand, and talked.



Maori style, kanohi ki te kanohi - face to face - and as importantly for Mrs Harawira, woman to woman.



The slagging was over. You could almost guarantee they parted with a hug.

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We do not know that the meeting was at Helen Clark's villa in Sandringham because it is still meant to be secret, and those who know about it are not talking.



The last thing the Government wants is to fuel stories about Helen vs Titewhai - or even Helen loves Titewhai - that might overshadow the important symbolism in the Prime Minister's return to Waitangi, especially in election year.



But we know it happened and that with them was Maori Affairs Minister Parekura Horomia, and Parekawhia McLean, one of those faceless, tireless Beehive bureaucrats who are happiest when their employer gets some credit for their work.



Without her and Mr Horomia, the meeting would probably not have happened.



And without the meeting with Mrs Harawira, Helen Clark's return to Waitangi as Prime Minister would not have been complete.



She would have been driven in the VIP car past Te Tii Marae on the way to the treaty ground at the top with its lovely ceremonial marae for a formal welcome - a sanitised affair.



The Ngapuhi elders would have felt snubbed. There may have been as much resentment about her detour as goodwill about her return.



Mrs Harawira and Helen Clark would have maintained their well-rehearsed entrenched positions about the other.

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Three weeks ago Mrs Harawira called Helen Clark's return to Waitangi "a sham".



And Helen Clark said: "Te Tii Marae at the moment is like one of those partly submerged rocks in the ocean where you're best to steer a little bit wider around it."



Of course, the pair's relationship is deeper and dimmer than that tearful day in 1998 when Mrs Harawira stopped Helen Clark from speaking during the powhiri at Te Tii.



Helen Clark was Minister of Health in 1988 when Mrs Harawira got nine months for assaulting a patient at Carrington's Maori mental health unit, the Whare Paia.



That's history.



"Women have decided that we're moving on," Mrs Harawira said. "She's got the country to run. I've got to assist Ngapuhi in its determination to move ahead and do positive things."



Te Tai Tokerau MP Dover Samuels was crucial in the return to Waitangi, as was Te Tai Tokerau District Council chairman Sir Graham Latimer.



Mr Samuels' involvement and enthusiasm were possible only because he was promoted back to the Maori Affairs Ministry as an Under-Secretary after his sacking in 2000 as minister.



As Hauraki MP John Tamihere put it, there had been underlying tensions in the caucus over the way Mr Samuels had been treated. When that was addressed it cleared the way for MPs to work on Helen Clark's return.



"She was lukewarm to the return until quite recently," said Mr Tamihere.



With the invitation to Te Tii and the Harawira ceasefire, she is evidently convinced there is now goodwill.



Helen Clark does not see it as a risk. "It has now developed as a very large opportunity," she said on Thursday before leaving for the Auckland Islands. "There is a very strong desire to engage up there.



"We've been all over the country in the last year in very intensive meetings with Maoridom. And while ministers are in and out of the North, we haven't yet done the full forum and visits up there. Everyone wants to be back in the loop."



She is referring to the six Maori hui, counterparts of the business forums, in which the Prime Minister and a squadron of ministers descend into an area to workshop with community leaders.



Mr Tamihere said the forums had been a success in connecting the Government with Maoridom, leaving few issues for Labour's opponents - "the resourcing of the treaty settlements process and the time it is taking, and the second one is the fish [allocation]".



"Everywhere you go, our constitution is moving to acknowledge and accept matters Maori," said Mr Tamihere.



"It's time for moving out of grievance and into solution mode."