Jacinda Ardern's absence a glaring omission as MPs return to Waitangi's controversial Te Tii marae

Politicians have returned to Waitangi's lower Te Tii marae for the first time since tensions peaked in 2017, but there was a glaring omission at the pōwhiri - the Prime Minister didn't join her ministers and Māori caucus. 

After three years, it was homecoming for MPs who showed up at Te Tii marae on Tuesday after Waitangi commemorations were moved to the upper marae in 2017, which some in Labour's Māori caucus felt sowed division within local iwi Ngāpuhi. 

"This is really big for us," said Labour's deputy leader Kelvin Davis.

 "It's an honour to come back," said Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson. 

Labour's Peeni Henare echoed the sentiment, telling Newshub: "It allows our people to be really close with us and engage with us a little bit more directly, which is very different to what we notice up the top, but I'm just really excited to be back."

Te Tii Marae has a long history of political protest. Former Prime Minister John Key was jostled and dodged a bucket of small dead fish, former National leader Don Brash ate mud, and the year National snubbed Te Tii marae - 2016 - minister Steven Joyce was hit by a flying sex toy.

Jacinda Ardern has never visited as Prime Minister. She arrived on Tuesday hours late. 

"We're hoping if things go well that could be the way to go," Jackson told Newshub, when asked if the ultimate goal is to get Ardern to Te Tii marae. "Peeni and Kelvin are talking to her about that and at the moment things are going pretty well."

Te Tii marae also has a long history of peaceful protest. On Tuesday, it was by a group occupying land set for private development in the Bay of Islands town Opua. The group was furious that the Prime Minister snubbed the visit. 

"It's wrong. She should have been here. But I'm just hoping the Labour caucus that comes, they will see what we're all about," said Tony Williams, leader of the Opua occupation. 

It's up to Labour's Māori Caucus to advise the Prime Minister on whether she should attend Te Tii marae - and they're washing their hands of it.

"The Prime Minister's arrangements are up to her but hopefully next year the Māori caucus will have an opportunity to come onto this marae as well, and if more people are able to come then that would be great," said Davis. 

Ngāpuhi matriarch Titewhai Harawira, who has been hand in glove with Ardern at Waitangi during her previous visits, says the divided iwi has work to do before the Prime Minister can return to Te Tii. 

"It's right that she continues to go to the top [upper marae] because officially in the Māori world we haven't talked about it," she said. 

It's not the only thing Ngāpuhi can't agree on - complex and contentious Treaty of Waitangi negotiations have stretched beyond a decade. 

On Tuesday the Government attempted to throw money at the problem - a $150 million investment fund - not settlement - on the table for Ngāpuhi.

"It is not the total value of what I would expect would be a settlement to be for Ngāpuhi," said Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Minister Andrew Little. 

It's the Crown's attempt to future proof negotiations.