Cheers, waiata and tears of relief and joy flowed as Whakatāne District councillors voted unanimously to establish Māori wards yesterday.
The journey to get there was a fraught one, with earlier council decisions in favour of Māori wards in past years overturned by polling provisions since removed by government.
Before making the decision yesterday, councillors heard from 21 groups and individuals, most of whom were in support of establishing wards.
Whakatāne mayor Judy Turner said the vote was not a "cure-all" in the council's relationship with iwi but rather a starting point that brings it closer to what was intended at the signing of the treaty.
The council has joined more than 10 other councils that have voted to install Māori wards in recent months.
Councillor Gavin Dennis told the more than 150 people gathered in the council chambers that the vote represented Māori and Pākehā moving forward "nose to nose, breath to breath, heartbeat to heartbeat, shoulder to shoulder, hand in hand, walking together into the future".
"Both sides of the partnership will need to step up a bit," he said.
"Those of us in the general wards will have to realise there is more than one world view. Those on the Māori wards will have to learn to trust us again and to be able to share what is valuable for them ... I am going to enthusiastically, strongly and wholeheartedly vote for Māori wards and all that entails."
Councillor Julie Jukes said she proudly voted for Māori wards.
"Let's make history, it's time," she said.
Councillor Nandor Tanczos said the vote would result in better decision-making in the council.
"What is lacking is a Māori worldview, and to have that here will make our decisions better, it will make our discussions better," he said.
"If there's one place that needs Māori wards its Whakatāne. Almost half of our population is Māori and to have clear conduits to the Māori community is critical if we're going to be good decision-makers. It's about bringing community together."
It was an emotional day for Māori wards campaigner Toni Boynton.
She told councillors before the vote her children had to walk in two worlds, the Pākehā world, and the Māori world.
"There are some people who do not need to worry about what world they are walking in, because everything that surrounds them was built for them, by them," Boynton said.
"Part of today is to ensure all our tamariki can see themselves reflected in the decisions and leadership of council."
Representatives from Ngāti Awa, Ngāi Tūhoe, Ngāti Manawa, Ngāti Whare and Ngāti Rangitihi spoke at the meeting and all were in support of establishing Māori wards.
Following yesterday's vote, the council will now develop a proposal to go out to the public on how exactly Māori wards will work in practice, for example how many Māori seats there will be and how they will represent their people, before being finalised.
The opportunity to again consider the establishment of Māori wards followed the Local Electoral (Māori Wards and Māori Constituencies) Amendment Bill, which was passed in February.
The changes to the act removed any options for establishing Māori wards other than the council resolving to have Māori wards.
Previously, local polls with five or more percent of the voting population could overturn a council's decision to introduce Māori wards, which Whakatāne District Council experienced in 2018.