Rotorua, Waiariki and Tauranga candidates clashed on colonisation, discrimination and the Foreshore and Seabed Act at a debate for students at Rotorua Girls' High School on Wednesday.
Rotorua candidates Claire Mahon and Todd McClay attended the debate, as did Waiariki Māori Party candidate Rawiri Waititi and Top Party Tauranga candidate Andrew Caie.
Seventeen-year-old student Taini Paul-Tomoana asked about the repeal of the Foreshore and Seabed Act and what the represented parties could do for Māori youth "to help with decolonisation".
Labour's Claire Mahon said people shouldn't judge the current Labour Government for the Foreshore and Seabed Act, because it was made by the previous Labour Government.
"Those are different people, it's a different party ... it's like any of you being blamed or held to account for what your parents did.
"Decolonisation … is a journey that we each individually have responsibility for.
"For me as a Pākehā, this is a daily challenge, and one that, I'll be totally honest, isn't always comfortable, but that's the whole point."
She said the free lunches in schools programme empowered Māori because it gave everyone a good start.
National candidate Todd McClay disagreed with Mahon on culpability for the effects of the Foreshore and Seabed Act.
"You do need to judge a party based on what it's done previously, it's not just about what you want to do today.
"The Labour Party got it wrong around the Foreshore and Seabed.
"A law was put through that was harmful to New Zealand.
"[The National Party] had a leader previously who had very strong views around race relations. You go back 15 years, race relations in New Zealand were very challenged."
McClay said that in his opinion: "Back then the National Party got it wrong, but we had to own that, because he was the leader at the time."
Don Brash was leader of the National Party from 2003 to 2006 and expressed controversial views opposing Māori separatism and affirmative action.
McClay said he was proud the previous National Government, in which he was a Cabinet Minister, "got more Treaty settlements through in that period of time than any Government ever has".
Caie said Te Tiriti o Waitangi needed to be enshrined and honoured.
He said a universal basic income would help Māori.
However, Rawiri Waititi stole the show on the issue of race relations, with students visibly roused by his speech and murmuring affirmatively as he spoke.
"It's hard to look for a solution to colonisation when really you haven't been subjected to it," he said.
"The Foreshore and Seabed was one part of confiscation.
"The biggest muru, or ... confiscation, was the confiscation of our minds and hearts and our souls.
"If you look at a cake … the National Party eat all the cake, and say to Māori, here's the crumbs, now go over there and eat it and don't come back.
"The Labour Party do the same, they eat all the cake, they give you the crumbs and say 'here's the plate' - we go grab the plate, they say 'hang on, we're going to now feed you those crumbs'.
"It's time for us to start looking at the cake and take our rightful piece."
The analogies kept coming, as Waititi went on to say Sir Tamati Reedy had said the great white shark was the Pākehā.
"The kahawai was the Māori. The great white shark said to the kahawai, 'should we create a partnership?' and the kahawai says 'yes, that sounds like a good idea' - and the great white shark ate the kahawai and says 'now we are one'.
"And that's where we are at … it is now our time."
Paul-Tomoana, who asked the original question, told the Rotorua Daily Post after the debate she felt Mahon and McClay downplayed the effects of the Foreshore and Seabed Act.
"They ... were making like it wasn't much of a big deal, when it was.
"Rawiri, he was straight up, bam, 'they took our land', and we're like 'yeah, we know'."
After the debate, Anipātene Williams, who will become eligible to vote on election day, said some of the politicians had talked about what their father or grandfathers had done - "what have you done?"
Williams said she had her mind made up on who to vote for, but after the debate she would "re-evaluate".
Rotorua Girls' High principal Sarah Davis said the debate was the third the school had held and she had wanted the students to access "the people who are directly influencing decisions that matter in terms of their future".
"It's been more significant than what I first realised in terms of the way that the girls have engaged themselves, and what that's saying to me is this is really important to them and they are taking this whole process really seriously.
"They're not following the lead of their family, they're wanting to actually know for themselves what's right for them."