Pania Newton should have taken being called a 'putiputi' by Shane Jones as a compliment, says NZ First leader Winston Peters.
Jones, the Regional Development Minister, has faced calls to apologise to the Ihumātao protest leader after making the comment during his visit to Rātana last week.
"I am in no way swayed by this constant social media grandstanding by our young putiputi, Pania," Jones said, using the word meaning a young flower.
"Pania must not pretend that she is something in the Māori world that she is not ... you derive your mana in te ao Māori, not from pleasing Pākehā."
Following the comment, a group of dozens of Māori academics, activists, artists and political commentators released a statement calling Jones a bully.
But Peters, the Deputy Prime Minister, says Newton misunderstood the comment.
The word was "part of a famous Māori song", Peters told Magic Talk on Tuesday, adding Newton's reaction was "a case of someone getting rather overexcited about nothing."
"Some people should get over themselves. When they say that they're experts perhaps they should remember what the song was all about - it's actually an element to an item of praise, if they even thought about it," he said.
"There are a lot of young Māori women in particular who would love to be called that."
Speaking to RNZ, Newton said although Jones has always been vocally opposed to the protest at Ihumātao, his latest comments were personal.
"I was really taken back, actually. In our entire campaign he has openly criticised us, but he has never taken direct attacks towards us," she told RNZ.
The Ihumātao site, in south Auckland, has been the focus of controversy in recent months, after protesters on the land were served eviction notices in July last year.
The land, owned by Fletcher Building, was earmarked to have 480 houses built on it, but construction was halted due to the protest.
Last week the Kiingitanga flag was lowered when the Māori King visited the site, symbolising progress had been made in the ongoing dispute.
At the time, a spokesperson for the king said a "pathway to a resolution" had been found.
It is now expected that a resolution will be announced in time for Waitangi Day.