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Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei has become the first woman politician to speak on Te Tii Marae, 16 years after Helen Clark was famously reduced to tears after she was barred from speaking.
Turei said it was an "incredible honour" but admitted to some nerves.
"The response ... was fantastic, they were supportive of me speaking in the whare at the powhiri and they were supportive of the message that change is coming."
She spoke of the real possibility of change at the next election and of a "truly progressive government where kids are at the heart and where the Maori interest has a genuine voice at the table," Turei said.
Women are traditionally not allowed to speak on the marae. Her speaking showed that Maori culture was not set in stone and could adapt, putting her at odds with the Maori Party which has staunchly opposed a review of powhiri protocol at Parliament.
Speaker David Carter has ordered a review of rules banning women from sitting in the front row on the paepae after two female Labour MPs were asked to move from the front row during a powhiri last year.
"The issue as I've proven at Ratana now twice and here at Waitangi ... is that Maori culture is a living culture and there are ways to talk with Maori about the decisions that are being made and if you are respectful ... then Maori culture is able to deal with a whole lot of issues and concerns," Turei said. "That's what's been proven here."
Marae kaumatua Rihari Takuira said it was an "evolution" as women did not normally speak.
"She is a leader and a very, very fine leader, secondly she is a Maori leader," Takuira said.
Earlier, a bag of fish was thrown in front of Prime Minister John Key at Waitangi after he told protesters he'd join them if they could prove oil exploration was bad for Maori.
A young man tipped a large number of what looked like pilchards on the path, around 3 metres in front of Key, as he was leaving Te Tii marae.
The man refused to answer questions as to his motives for the action. But a hikoi protesting deep sea oil mining has overshadowed formalities at the marae today, ahead of Waitangi Day celebrations tomorrow.
Despite the fish incident, Key said his reception was among the most welcoming he'd had at Waitangi since he took office.
"It was very calm. Yeah some guy threw a few pilchards or something on the way out but I've been coming now for eight years and in a lot of respects this is one of the quietest ones."
He said in previous years he had been "belted" and stopped from speaking or going on "and this has got to be at the milder end".
KEY: PROVE YOU'RE RIGHT AND I'LL JOIN YOU
Before the fish protest Key had attempted to convince local iwi leaders that fossil fuel exploration was in Maori interests. He invited the leaders of the hikoi to Wellington to spend a week with his ministers going over the facts around environmental risks and job creation.
"If I am wrong and you are right, I will walk out and join that protest," he said.
But if Key was proven right, he told the leaders they must tell the people about the benefits of oil.
"It is good for Maori, it is good for New Zealand... That is what the iwi of Taranaki tell me," Key said.
Key disputed the perception that the Government did not care about Maori and did nothing for iwi.
"I am here to straighten that waka up. I am going to be the met service for that waka," he said.
Key pointed to the number of Treaty settlements, initiatives like Whanau Ora and the insulation of homes in low income areas as examples of the Government's investment in Maori.
"Whenever we came to an iwi that wanted settle, we have settled. That includes people like Tuhoe, and they said (a settlement) would never happen," he said.
Key said the relationship between National and the Maori Party had also brought many benefits to Maori people.
"We have done plenty of things we wouldn't without the Maori Party," Key said.
After Key's speech the Labour Party was welcomed on to the marae amid continued heckling.
WINSTON TO HECKLER: SHUT UP
Earlier, a woman heckling Key was told to "shut up" by NZ First leader Winston Peters.
Hecklers rained insults on Key as he entered the meeting house.
"You are desert traders ... You don't love our ancestors ... You are killing our babies ... You are nothing but murderers ... You are nothing but thieves," she said.
Peters, watching the welcome from the sidelines, told her to shut up.
"This is not your land. You are not a tupuna," he said.
"Shut up, I want to hear them," he said, as the welcome party started to sing.
Peters said while protest could be expected, the heckling was an "outrage".
"There is a saying in Maoridom, when the hen crows, wring its neck. I am not calling for the modern day version, but you get my drift," he said.
The woman's performance during the formal welcome to the prime minister was an insult and an outrage, he said.
"She should be removed from the marae. In other parts of the country they would have long ago," he said.
Key was guarded by waka crews, entering to a haka and waiata which largely drowned out the protests.
Joel Bristow, who spoke on behalf of protesters during the powhiri, was allowed to speak to Key inside the meeting house.
He challenged the Government on whether it was paying attention to the hikoi's message.
"You may come to listen but are you really hearing?" he asked.
Mining benefits were outweighed by the risk posed to the beauty of New Zealand, he said.
"With something this important we cannot make one mistake, because we won't get a second chance," he said.
The group, who travelled by foot, horse and electric car from Cape Reinga said it was dedicated to finding alternatives to fossil fuels.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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