Relationship with water pivotal
Some are calling for the Maori Party to walk away from National after the dispute about Maori claims over water. Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia says the relationship is not perfect, but the parties are still looking for common ground.
It was always likely that political tensions would emerge during the hearings before the Waitangi Tribunal concerning the national freshwater and geothermal resources claim.
The commercially driven obsession with ownership of water could not be further apart from the view that we hold as tangata whenua of water - wai - as the essence of life.
When one Maori meets another, the first question we ask is "no wai koe" - meaning from what birthing waters have you come? What is your river, your lake, your spring? Where are you from?
That will inevitably be followed with "ko wai koe" - what waters define who you are? What is the whakapapa line from which you trace descent? Who are you?
Our relationships with our rivers and the other water sources within our tribal space lie at the very heart of all that we are - that relationship is a fundamental source of our spiritual, physical and cultural wellbeing.
Indeed, when Whanganui took our river claim to the tribunal we described te awa tupua as the "aortic artery, the central bloodline of that one heart".
One of our practices is expressed "kauaka e korero mo te awa, engari korero ki te awa" (don't merely talk about the river, rather speak to and commune with the river).
Our relationship with water is pivotal to our way of seeing the world.
At home, we have never talked about ownership.
Our korero has always been about rights, responsibilities and obligations - it is a korero that aligns with the work that the Iwi Leaders Forum has been doing in these past four years in their discussions around rights and interests in water.
And importantly, such an approach appears of universal relevance for indigenous peoples.
In April 2010, our Government signed up to the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; the Maori Party see this as one of our key gains achieved in the 2008-2011 Parliament.
Article 25 of that declaration notes: "Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinctive spiritual relationship with their traditionally owned or otherwise occupied and used lands, territories, waters and coastal seas and other resources and to uphold their responsibilities to future generations in this regard."
While opposition parties love to speculate at the first signs of tension, we are not afraid of conflict if the occasion warrants us standing up and speaking out.
Besides, tension in any relationship is not unusual.
But the bigger challenge that is occupying our party strategists and members alike, is how do we work with and through the natural tension created by Te Tiriti o Waitangi. A tension summarised as between kawanatanga (article one) and tino rangatiratanga (article two).
Of course this is not a tension specific to the Maori and National parties.
It is a tension well known to whanau, hapu and iwi as partners to the Tiriti - the tension between the Crown and Maori that emerges in any discussions around natural resources.
Some tensions can be easily resolved. You say water, we say wai. But most require time and space to create a conversation; a conversation in which we look for common ground.
In the past fortnight, there have been many calls from the Opposition and the press gallery for the Maori Party to walk away.
When I crossed the floor it was an entirely different scenario. I was in someone else's house - the Labour House - and I had huge difficulty in learning by rote the key lines of the day.
But in the Maori Party I have the freedom to think our way; to vote our way; to stay true to the calls of our constituency. We are fiercely committed towards enabling the voices of whanau, hapu and iwi to have influence; to bring kaupapa Maori to the fore.
But we must never under- estimate the amount of work it takes to build and maintain a relationship.
A relationship that is functional; respectful; mana- enhancing.
The Relationship Accord enables us to work together in a curious type of social laboratory; two parties from different worlds forging a shared pathway ahead that we hope will be in the best interests of all who call Aotearoa home.
A key feature of our relationship has been the generous interpretation of the "agree to disagree" provision.
If we disagree with any matters outside of our portfolio responsibilities or associate minister delegations, we have the absolute freedom to oppose. Needless to say it is a provision we have made much use of!
While the relationship is not perfect, it is certainly a work in progress. Our contributions at Cabinet committees have a free and frank flavour which leaves little room for doubt if we have concerns.
But just as importantly, we acknowledge the compromises made in our favour; the transformation across all sectors through Whanau Ora; and the increased priority given to addressing poverty; improving housing, and creating employment and education opportunities over and above our ministerial achievements.
Why would we jeopardise the greatest opportunity Maori have ever had to benefit from political influence by abdicating our responsibilities and disappearing into the crowded wasteland of the Opposition?
The promise that was made when the Crown and tangata whenua entered their partnership at Waitangi was to work together to create a shared future of optimism. Surely our greatest investment is to dialogue between ourselves, to consolidate our hope for a future we can all own.