For the first time, politicians and dignitaries will be given earpieces to hear the translated words of their hosts during the official welcome to Waitangi next week.

The idea was that of Māori Crown Relations Minister Kelvin Davis, who has also introduced changes to the way the powhiri on February 5 is conducted.

A Brief History of Waitangi Day

The powhiri was until recently held at Ti Tii Marae. It was moved over concerns the event had become a "circus" and moved to Te Whare Runanga on the upper marae at the Treaty Grounds.


"We're trying to build on the good atmosphere that was generated last year, and the idea is to return dignity and decorum to proceedings," Davis told the Weekend Herald.

"In previous years, whoever was the government would go on and be bolstered by officials and CEs and there'd be a big jostle for position, and the Opposition was just left to fend for themselves at a later powhiri."

All parties had agreed to go on as one group this year for one parliamentary powhiri.

"We've organised the simultaneous translation earpieces for everybody. It's about being inclusive and I think it's the way New Zealand needs to head, where everybody understands what everyone's saying so we don't talk past each other," said Davis.

"It's a small thing but I think it means a lot to those people who in the past felt excluded. We want to celebrate New Zealand's day, and it all started here in Waitangi."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is leading a large delegation of at least 30 Labour MPs to Waitangi. New Zealand First and the Green Party will also be there.

National Party leader Simon Bridges will be at Waitangi with a contingent of MPs for the powhiri, the first National leader to attend since former prime minister John Key in 2015.
Key, who had vowed to attend every year, stopped going in 2015. His successor Bill English also stayed away.

"I think every leader has to make their own decision. For me, it's my first opportunity as leader to do it. I'm really keen to and I'm looking forward to it," Bridges said.


"It's our country's day. The Treaty of Waitangi is so clearly part of the fabric of New Zealand and it recognises the special place of Māori in our bicultural foundations."

Ardern, who last year became the first female prime minister to speak during the powhiri, told those gathered then that they must hold her government to account.

"When we return in one year, in three years, I ask you to ask us what we have done for you," she said then.

Ardern generated much goodwill during her first visit as prime minister in 2018. She was pregnant with Neve, and she spent five days in the north.

2019 is also the first Waitangi Day since the death of Ngāpuhi elder Kingi Taurua, whose name was for many years synonymous with Waitangi Day protest.

Chairman of the Waitangi National Trust Pita Tipene said Taurua's wairua or spirit would be present.

"His legacy will be with us, as will be the legacy of all of our tupuna, our ancestors from the recent past, not to mention those who signed the Te o Tiriti in 1840.

"In Kingi's case, it's real, it's present and his voice is still ringing in our ears."

He said the stalled Ngāpuhi settlement would cast somewhat of a shadow over the celebrations and would be talked about on Waitangi Day.

"Certainly it is a shadow, probably more than a shadow actually, and it needs to be.

"It needs to be addressed. It needs to be progressed still in a manner that will meet with success and popular support from the people of Ngāpuhi. We really do need to talk about it."

He expected protesters. "It's a normal thing to do and so we should hear those issues."

Tipene said he encouraged people to articulate their views but with respect.

"As chairman of the Waitangi National Trust, I say he whenua rangatira. The grounds have that spiritual gravitas so the ceremonies need to be conducted in the same fashion."

Both Ti Tii - the lower marae, and the upper marae have events over a number of days including official events, stalls, church services and music.

Key Waitangi events
• February 4 - Investiture of master waka-builder Sir Hekenukumai Busby by Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy at the upper Marae

• February 5 - Official powhiri for dignitaries at Te Whare Runanga

• February 6 - Dawn ceremony at the upper marae, followed by arrival of waka fleet and haka at Ti Beach