5 Feb 2020

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern assures iwi leaders over water and land issues

7:51 pm on 5 February 2020

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has managed to smooth things over with iwi leaders, despite iwi concerns over a lack of influence in the government.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at Waitangi.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at Waitangi. Photo: RNZ / Simon Rogers

Ardern met with the National Iwi Chairs Forum today in Waitangi, where they agreed to work together to resolve concerns around state care, water, and Maori land.

It comes after intense discussion within the forum yesterday that saw iwi leaders complain over a lack of influence under the government.

Today's meeting between the Prime Minister and a government delegation was held behind closed doors, but Ardern said it was constructive.

"The take home for myself and the government is there are areas of work where we have real common ground," she said.

"None of us want any children to be in harms way and all of us want to make the changes required to keep them safe.

"We all want to make sure that we have decent water that our lakes our rivers are swimmable. We also want to see underutilised land, as has been the case with Māori land, utilised - and so there's work there that we can do together."

She said the government had agreed to form a work programme with the forum and she looks forward to working together.

About 200 people attended the two-day forum in Waitangi - where 50 iwi chairs debated key issues in te ao Māori.

Many felt they don't have much influence nowadays.

Yesterday, Toi Tu Ngati Porou director Amohaere Houkaamou said the forum's relationship with this government had changed.

"This government certainly, in respect to the forum that we have here around the National Iwi Chairs Forum, have been a lot more stand-off than the previous government," she said.

"So when we talk about a range of Te Tiriti o Waitangi based approaches to Crown-Iwi, I would suggest this government has a lot to learn from the previous government."

National Party leader Simon Bridges took his front bench to meet with members of the forum last night.

He said that some members of the government had tried to diminish the role of the forum, and reinforced the stronger relationship the iwi leaders had under the National government.

However, today's private discussions with the Prime Minister appear to have smoothed things out for iwi leaders.

Te Rarawa iwi leader Haami Piripi said the forum feels much more positive about its working relationship with the government.

I think this was one of the best meetings that we have had yet between ourselves and the government," he said.

"It was probably because there was a real air of authenticity about the government approach and their response and a genuine concern from our point of view for our children, for our resources - and the two produced a scenario of greater hope than we have had before."

Piripi said the government is under certain constraints that iwi leaders need to accept, and he's confident it wants to work with them.