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Treaty Negotiations Minister Andrew Little stole the show by delivering his entire address in the Maori language, te reo, while Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern proudly beaming the background.

“We’d discussed the fact he would be giving [the speech] as part of Labour’s response. I still didn’t quite expect that. We were all incredibly moved,” Ardern said.

NZ Justice Minister Andrew Little speaks at the Treaty grounds Te Whare Runanga in Waitangi,

NZ Justice Minister Andrew Little speaks at the Treaty grounds Te Whare Runanga in Waitangi, Credit:Getty Images

Little said he’d started learning te reo some years ago but began work on that address before Christmas.

His message, richly savoured by the crowd, was that the government wanted to come closer to fulfilling its obligations under the Treaty of Waitangi – the country’s foundational document, signed on those grounds 180 years ago on Thursday.

“Every New Zealander is on a journey as we forge, nearly 200 years on, to work out what this nation is and who we are,” Little said.

“On this sort of occasion and this week at this place to convey a message that we want to make this work, that we want to move closer to you rather than make you come closer to us, it’s been great to be a part of that.”

PM Jacinda Ardern speaks at the sacred grounds in Waitangi.

PM Jacinda Ardern speaks at the sacred grounds in Waitangi.Credit:Getty Images

In a reply speech, Maori elder Wahoroi Shortland said Little was “not the same person” that addressed the same gathering two years ago.

“We the people of the north, we are delighted that we taught you to be like that,” he said.

“You have a great job ahead of you. That will be accomplished by us with that spirit in mind … I will never cease to thank you.”

Maori representatives used the platform to put their agendas to Ardern and others; arguing Maori were over-represented in prisons, denied health and dental care, while treaty settlements were delayed.

New Zealand Prime Minister and her partner Clarke Gayford with their daughter Neve Gayford at the upper Treaty grounds at Waitangi.

New Zealand Prime Minister and her partner Clarke Gayford with their daughter Neve Gayford at the upper Treaty grounds at Waitangi.Credit:Getty Images

Little’s elevating oratory came after a petty spat between the opposition National party and Ardern’s coalition partner NZ First risked overshadowing the occasion.

National leader Simon Bridges accused the government of failing to deliver for Maori, before making a brazen pitch for a four-lane highway in Northland.

NZ First leader Winston Peters accused Bridges of politicising the day, then urging Maori voters to “take out insurance” by voting for his party on September 19, when New Zealand goes to the polls.

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While many tut-tutted at the occasion being used as a political pulpit, the Waitangi “powhiri” has always being decidedly political.

Four years ago, a woman cried “thanks for raping our sovereignty” as she threw a dildo at then finance minister Steven Joyce.

A decade back, former prime minister John Key was assaulted by two men as he embraced his Maori Affairs minister, while longer ago, Helen Clark broke into tears when she was denied speaking rights.

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