Asked why he switched from Labour to the Māori Party, Rawiri Waititi gestures to his tattooed face and uniform head wear - a black cowboy hat.
"Well, I think the Labour Party values didn't really fit with my character, as you can see," Waititi said.
"My very essence is very Māori, so I think I've now aligned myself in the right political waka."
Waititi, 39, is standing in Waiariki for the second time, but the first time with the Māori Party.
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He ran for Labour in 2014 but lost to then-Māori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell.
After serving four terms, Flavell lost the seat in 2017 to Labour's Tamati Coffey and resigned after the party failed to make it back into Parliament.
So Waititi's challenge to Coffey in the September election has more than just the seat at stake - it will also be one of his party's few chances of returning to Parliament.
The new-look party, led by ex-Labour cabinet minister John Tamihere and former South Taranaki deputy mayor Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, is standing candidates in each of the seven Māori electorates.
Results of the July Roy Morgan poll, released on Saturday, had the party on 0.5 per cent. The threshold to enter Parliament is 5 per cent of the party vote or an electorate seat.
Waititi told NZME winning electorates was the party's only hope.
"The party vote is not going to return the Māori Party to Parliament ... so we are gunning for the seven Māori seats and we are asking our people to put their faith in the candidate and to candidate vote the Māori Party."
Waititi said Waiariki, which encompasses Tauranga, Rotorua, Whakatāne and Taupō, was a marginal seat with just over 1700 votes between Coffey and Flavell in 2017.
Waititi said the absence of his party from Parliament had been felt over the last three years, but especially since Covid-19 arrived.
He said that during level 4 - when he manned a roadblock on the East Coast - the Māori representation in the Government was, in his view, "subjugated", "assimilated" and "silent on the issues".
"There were bills being moved that were detrimental to the development of Māori."
He raised Resource Management Act reforms and the Public Response Bill, which allowed warrantless searches of marae.
"Again and again we were an afterthought in the process."
Waititi said his new party was a "liberated space" where he could be "unapologetically Māori" and "look out for the interests of tangata whenua without compromise".
The Covid-19 recovery was the party's priority issue. With Māori disproportionately affected by the economic impact of the pandemic, the emphasis was on jobs.
The party wants 25 per cent of the Covid response recovery funding to go to Māori, including trade jobs and contracts for Māori businesses.
Waititi said it had been good to see some funding coming to Waiariki via the recovery and Provincial Growth Fund, but it was not enough.
Waititi is a father of five with ancestral links to nine Waiariki iwi. He is a tohunga/minister of the Ringatū faith and, he says, a cousin to Hollywood director Taika Waititi.
Asked how he was positioning himself against Coffey, Waititi said the two came from "very different walks of life".
"I've said to people, why vote for Rawiri Waititi? Because I will not be silenced. I will not be subjugated, I will not be assimilated. I'm a tight-head prop, I'll run the ball up the guts and I'll have a beer with you afterwards. So I'm a really grassroots type of person. I've been brought up by my own people, so I'm fluent in both languages. And I think that is a huge tool to have in representing a Māori seat."
In response, Coffey said the "kumara doesn't talk about it own sweetness".
"But instead I stand on my own record of being part of a Jacinda Ardern led Government that has advocated and secured for $2 billion worth of direct investment into our region, the building of state houses, and free healthy lunches in over 30 schools across the Waiariki.
"The Māori Party sat next to National for nine long years and watched as homelessness soared. They also weren't a strong voice for the mental health and addictions crisis that has affected Māori so badly.
"For those reasons, the last election saw Māori voters, across all Māori seats, resoundingly choose Labour. We will be going back out on the campaign trail asking for their vote again."
In the battle for Waiariki, he said he was taking nothing for granted but post-Covid voters in Māori electorates would be looking for strong and compassionate leadership.
"Therefore the battle is between people that want a Jacinda Ardern-led Government, and those who want to risk it all on something else."
Also standing in Waiariki are Hannah Tamaki for the Vision NZ party and Rawiri te Kowhai of the Outdoors Party.