Jostling continues as Key escorted onto Te Tii marae
John Key says his reception on the lower Waitangi marae was "reasonably friendly", despite controversy over his escort.
He would continue to return to Waitangi every year he was prime minister - even if his visits were disturbed by protest and violence, he said in his speech to the Te Tii marae this afternoon.
"How will history judge me? I think as courageous, because I will keep coming back," he told the lower Waitangi marae.
"I'll keep turning up, you decide how you use it. That is not the view of other prime ministers and politicians."
Key said while controversy and disagreements were to be expected at Waitangi, it was positive to see them resolved and that he be allowed the opportunity to speak at the marae.
"We can come here and talk about a range of issues from violence and abuse against women, to youth, mental health issues, education. There are a lot of different issues to discuss and there is a lot of agreement," he said.
"There will inevitably be issues where we have to disagree."
Key rejected Labour leader David Shearer's proposal to grant New Years honours on Waitangi Day instead.
"I'm not interested in having a bar of it. The honours list is a time when we step back and celebrate New Zealanders from all different walks of life who have achieved all sorts of different and amazing things," Key said.
"If we move that to Waitangi Day we will politicise the process and we will move the focus and attention away from those individuals to the grievance de jour of that Waitangi day."
New Zealand must collectively come together and recognise our differences, Key told the gathered iwi leaders.
"We must put faith in the process that New Zealand could be a better country together," he said.
There was a risk that the Treaty meant too much time was spent looking at grievances of the past.
"We must have a modern day focus on what the treaty means," Key said.
The National government had done more for Maori than any other government, he said.
"Of the 53 Treaty agreements all but 15 have been signed by the National government.''
"When I hear people say the National government is not doing enough, nobody should make any illusions that we are doing our best and more than any other government."
Education outcomes were where young Maori could reduce racial inequality in New Zealand, said Key.
Currently 51 per cent of Moari achieved NCEA level 2 compared to a nationwide average of 75 per cent.
"If you want to make a difference get equality of opportunity and similar outcomes for young Maori," Key said.
There would always be differences about things like the current dispute of the sale of Might River Power, Key acknowledged.
But that should not distract from the New Zealand's achievements, he said.
"We don't spend enough time celebrating what we do well."
After a front gate disagreement Key was escorted onto Te Tii marae by Titewhai Harawira and Ani Taurua.
The two jostled for prime position as the prime minister was walked onto the marae.
Titewhai Harawira, the controversial Ngapuhi elder, refused to relinquish her self-appointed role after Ngapuhi trustees chose Taurua as this year's escort.
Key was nearly half an hour late as the opposing escort parties argued at the marae gate over who would take the role.
A dual escort was eventually agreed on.
Key led a large Government contingent, including Maori party leader Pita Sharples, onto the marae under the watch of police.
Ngapuhi elder Kingi Taurua expressed disappointment that Harawira would not accept the iwi's decision.
"Us Maori are supposed to adhere to the protocol of the marae," he said.
"We thought that when the trustees made the decision they would obey it."
Kingi Taurua and Sharples attempted to help the women reach an agreement, but as tensions rose the men were forced to leave, Taurua obviously angry.
Eventually, an agreement was reached between the two kuia.
"The women sorted it out," Mana Party leader Hone Harawira's wife Hilda Halkyard-Harawira said.
Key had said he was not concerned by who escorted him onto the marae.
But this revealed a lack of understanding of marae protocol, according to NZ First leader Winston Peters.
"Mr Key knows nothing about the indigenous culture of this country," Peters said.
The focus on Key's escort was a distraction from the real issues of Waitangi and Northland, he said.
"They have mass unemployment up here, one third of the people up here are on food support. And that is what is classed as news on our national day," he said.
ASSET SALES OPPOSITION
Key will also face opposition to the Government's plan to sell off state-owned energy companies during his visit today.
Maori Council co-chairman Maanu Paul will give a speech on water rights during the official proceedings.
The independent iwi constitutional working group, commissioned by the Iwi Leaders Group, will also deliver a blunt message.
About 2000 visitors are expected at Te Tii Marae.