By AUDREY YOUNG Political Reporter

Helen Clark closed one of the most unpleasant chapters in her political life with her return to Te Tii Marae at Waitangi yesterday.

And Titewhai Harawira scored the double, having now escorted two Prime Ministers - Jenny Shipley and Helen Clark - on to the marae.

The Prime Minister clearly hates being reminded of the day four years ago when she was reduced to tears at the marae after Mrs Harawira challenged her right to speak during the powhiri.


"Everyone has decided they are sick of the fiasco and decided they want to move on," Helen Clark said later.

She also indicated that fences with Ngapuhi have been mended in the wake of the Waitangi trouble and the sacking of Te Tai Tokerau MP Dover Samuels as Maori Affairs Minister.

"What today is about is re-establishing a strong relationship.

"It's time to move on and what became clear to me over the past two to three weeks was that was certainly the mood here at Ngapuhi.

"I'm personally hoha [brassed off] with the negativity that some try to attach to what's happening in Maoridom.

"I want to accentuate the positive.

"What's happened here today makes that even more possible."

Mrs Harawira's verdict on the day was the same.

"It's absolutely wonderful. Things have gone really well."

But her duties were not confirmed until the last minute.

Marae elders began debating at dawn yesterday after some suggested other kuia were better suited to an escort role. The debate was still going at midday, 90 minutes before the Crown party arrived.

Mr Samuels, who helped negotiate Helen Clark's return, said it had been a good day for Ngapuhi.

He said Mrs Harawira had been hasty in demanding that the Government fund pay for the visit to Te Tii Marae.

But he understood that $20,000 had been budgeted for it.

Old protesters were among the crowd - Mrs Harawira's children Hone and Wharehine Harawira were there, along with Ken Mair, Dun Mihaka, Annette Sykes and Mike Smith. All were on their best behaviour.

Trouble was limited to a few interjections aimed at Maori speakers.

One Tuhoe woman in the crowd challenged Rangitihi Tahuparae, who was speaking for the Governor-General, Dame Silvia Cartwright.

According to the Ruia Mai Maori language news service, when he mentioned his ancestry the woman mistakenly believed he meant a Tuhoe ancestor and attacked him as a "traitor" for working for the Governor-General.

Maori wardens closed in, the waiata was begun prematurely and the speaking closed off.

No one spoke on behalf of Helen Clark or the Tuwharetoa chief, Tumu te Heuheu.

Later at the upper marae, Nellie Rata, widow of former Labour MP Matiu Rata, surprised organisers by giving Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias a gift of a kit and, within seconds of her tribute beginning, a waiata was also begun.

The pre-Waitangi ceremonies fielded a fine showing of New Zealand's top-level matriarchy: the Prime Minister, the Governor-General, the Chief Justice, who was there privately, and Treaty Negotiations Minister Margaret Wilson.

The Maori Queen, Dame Te Atairangikaahu, joined the party when it left Te Tii for the ceremonial meeting house in the treaty grounds.

National Party leader Bill English was there, as well as his predecessor, Mrs Shipley, Alliance leader and Deputy Prime Minister Jim Anderton, New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, and two former Governors-General, Sir Paul Reeves and Sir Michael Hardie Boys.

The chairman of the Waitangi Fisheries Commission, Shane Jones, spoke at the upper marae.

Commenting later, he said people's attitudes towards Waitangi Day were changing.

"There is no longer the sourness or hardness of heart.

"Probably because we realise we run the risk of destroying Waitangi Day in terms of the rest of the country being prepared to take it seriously as a national holiday."

Once a Waitangi protester himself, he remembers when he, Haami Piripi, now of the Maori Language Commission, Ben Dalton, a senior manager in the Crown Forestry Rental Trust, and Hone Harawira, now chairman of the Maori television electoral college, were "four of the worst culprits for making Sir Paul Reeves' life a misery by yelling, shouting and climbing trees and throwing down objects designed to disrupt the ceremony.

"We no longer have that level of antagonism."

Both Helen Clark and Dame Silvia urged people to see the Treaty of Waitangi as an asset to the nation.

Helen Clark said: "The treaty has to be seen as an asset, not a liability. There are many countries that are fraught with tension between ethnic groups with no processes for sorting them out. We have processes."

The Prime Minister is hosting a breakfast at Waitangi today after a dawn service at the upper marae.