When Whanau Ora Minister Peeni Henare finished his korero at the Iwi Leaders Forum at Waitangi yesterday, he looked stranded. He sang his waiata, the Prime Minister and all the other ministers standing with him, but none of them sang a word. They didn't know the song.
Only a few people in the room did. But Henare wasn't really stranded.
He did not go with the usual songs and instead had chosen E Rere Te Ao, an old Ngapuhi waiata made famous for a while by Henare's grandfather, Sir James Henare, the last commander of 28 Māori Battalion. Sir James sang it on marae all round the country in 1945, when the troops were welcomed home.
It's about spreading your wings over the world. It's the song of a rangitira. Henare, singing on his own, the ranking Government minister in Māoridom, son of one of its most prestigious families, was reminding the room who he was.
At the meeting, the PM said later, they talked about communication and agreed there would be more korero, iwi leaders in meetings with ministers. Dame Tariana Turia was there, sitting in the front row to eyeball the Government. Dame Naida Glavish also. They'd already announced they had "no confidence" in Henare and his waiata had been for them.
What the korero will be, we don't know. Jacinda Ardern called it "a work programme" but said it was not up to her to disclose what would be in it. That was for the iwi leaders.
The day belonged to the Māori Battalion. Waitangi has a wonderful new museum, built in just one year and opened yesterday by the Governor General, and the PM, and Willie Apiata VC and Robert Gillies, known as Bom, one of only two surviving members of the battalion. Four pairs of hands, four scissors on the ribbon, four very big smiles.
How did it get built in a year, I asked Finance Minister and now infrastructure supremo Grant Robertson. "I've been asking the same question," he said. He didn't yet know the answer, although he did note it was all done by Northland locals: the architects, builders, everyone. Regional Development Minister Shane Jones sat on them hard, possibly literally, is what I heard.
The museum begins with the New Zealand Wars but its main subject is 28 Māori Battalion, who fought in the North Africa, the Mediterranean and Italy during World War II.
Among the films and stories and scenes of life at war and at home during war, there are walls covered in portraits. Some have no names and some are just blurred silhouettes where one day, they hope, photos will go. It's astonishing how much is still not known about the men who went to war.
No battalion was more decorated. No battalion lost so many – the casualties were 50 per cent greater than for any other. At home, communities lost a generation of leaders.
In 1940 Sir Apirana Ngata, formerly a government minister, had exhorted Māori to sign up: he called it "the price of citizenship". But it wasn't. Māori were not treated much better after the war than they had been before.
The writer Patricia Grace is quoted in the museum: "We know the men of the Māori Battalion did well. We know they were brave. But the loss of life and the trauma caused to the people was extreme and intergenerational. The price was too high."
During the speeches before the ribbon was cut, MC Matt Te Pou quoted Bishop Wiremu Panapa, addressing the returned troops: "Let it be that those of you who have seen evil, speak of good."
Pita Tipene, chair of the Waitangi Trust, talked about his father, a veteran who never spoke of the war, even when they sat out on the high hills after a day of cutting manuka scrub. It was, as it was for so many, too hard. The museum is their voice now.
"Ironically," said Tipene, "Shane Jones and I are now replanting those hills."
The Armed Forces band played; one of its members, Bryony Williams, sang in a voice that rang so pure you thought it might shame the songbirds from the trees. Poet Tayi Tibble read a poem about a life a couple built, before he went to war. It ended: "She promised every day to check the mail, and that was the only vow she took.
Veteran Bom Gillies, well into his 10th decade, is immortalised in the museum, in a video interview and a series of beautiful portraits by Jane Ussher. He's not the tough old soldier you might expect, although presumably he was that once. Instead, the man you see has soft sad eyes, a delicate smile beneath a crinkly toothbrush moustache. A gentle old soldier.
The museum is called Te Rau Aroha, after the truck the YMCA sent out to follow the battalion around, stocked with memories of home and paid for with funds raised by the children of the "native schools". It lives in the Waiouru museum but is on loan to Waitangi this week. I imagine there's a tussle going on right now about its permanent home.
Te Rau Aroha: The Token of Love. Or Matt Te Pou put it, the Generosity of the Heart.