• Jacinda Ardern celebrates her first Waitangi Day as Prime Minister of New Zealand. (Getty Images )Source: Getty Images
New Zealand’s Prime Minister was granted special permission to speak at a marae on the Waitangi grounds and then received an unusual and special request.
Rangi Hirini

6 Feb 2018 - 12:50 PM  UPDATED 20 Apr 2018 - 4:28 PM

Waitangi Day in New Zealand is a significant day for both the Māoris and Pākehās (non- Māoris ) as it commemorates the signing for the Treaty of Waitangi, a pivotal legal document in the nation's development.

This year, newly elected Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was given special permission to speak at the marae (meeting house) on the Waitangi grounds on the eve of the national holiday.  

It is also rare for pregnant women to speak at the pōhiri, Ms Ardern is currently pregnant with her first child. It was in this context that an unusual offer was made to the Prime Minister.

The iwi, people in Māori, have asked Ms Ardern to bring her baby’s whenua, the afterbirth or placenta, back to Waitangi grounds.

It’s a traditional Māori custom to return a baby’s placenta back into the Papatūānuku, mother earth and return it to the land.

It is considered to be an act of deep cultural and spiritual importance.

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It’s being reported Prime Minister Ardern is seriously considering the offer.

"The fact that the suggestion was made and that there were elders alongside me who really acknowledged that  - it felt like a significant gesture, a really symbolic one and it meant a lot to me,” she said.

Ms Ardern is New Zealand’s third female Prime Minister but she became the first to speak during the pōhiri, traditional Māori welcoming ceremony.

Ms Ardern said it was a "historic" moment.

“To have the opportunity [and] the privilege to speak on the marae veranda but I now carry that expectation on for the rest of my time in office,” she told the media.

Those in attendance said this year’s Waitangi Day commemorations on the traditional grounds were positive compared to previous years.

“The peaceful mood here is really unique because we’ve never experience this type of atmosphere before,” Shane Jones, New Zealand First politician said.

At this morning’s dawn service an estimated 1500 people turned out for the traditional prayer on the Treaty Grounds.

It’s thought to be one of the biggest turnouts in decades.

Despite international views that Waitangi Day is a peaceful day, there were some protesters at this morning’s dawn service.

A small group led by Waitangi elder Kingi Taurua chanted “Hikoi”, meaning ‘march’ in Māori, as they protested through the church service.

Prime Minister Ardern acknowledged previous year’s protests and said New Zealanders shouldn’t be scared to challenge the government.

"I think we should stop striving for perfection at the commemorations of our national day. If people choose to use their voice on this day that does not mean it is a failure, it does not mean the day needs to change or move it just means that we're not complacent."

She also acknowledged the past mistakes of the British Crown. 

"We have failed in our partnership but I inherinently believe in our power to change."

Ms Ardern has spent the last five days up in Waitangi, north of Auckland, leading up to today. 

She's promised to improve on the government's relationship with Māoris and said she wanted to earn the right to be on the Waitangi grounds. 

"Because one day I want to be able to tell my child that I earned the right to stand here. And only you can tell me when I have done that," she said.

The Prime Minister also said she is working towards closing the gap between Māori and Pākehās.