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Stop striving for perfection at Waitangi commemorations: PM

Stop striving for perfection at Waitangi commemorations, says PM

Dissent and protest around Waitangi Day commemorations shouldn't been seen as a sign of failure, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says.

Waitangi Day got off to a peaceful start in the Bay of Islands, with an estimated 1500 people attending the traditional prayer service on the Treaty Grounds.

The turnout is thought to be the biggest in decades.

A small group of protestors led by Waitangi elder Kingi Taurua has just marched through the congregation assembled for this morning's church service chanting "Hikoi".

The choir kept singing while the protestors kept up their chant for five minutes before moving on.

A small group of protestors led by Waitangi elder Kingi Taurua marched through the congregation assembled for this morning's church service chanting"Hikoi". Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams

Earlier, at the dawn service Ms Ardern gave a reading based on extracts from the Book of Celtic Wisdom by John Donahue.

She asked that those gathered never lose sight of why they had come to Waitangi today and that they might know the wisdom of deep listening.

Leaders of other political parties also read prayers.

Ngāpuhi leader Sonny Tau said New Zealand had a good run under the National Party for the last nine years, but acknowledged the nation might benefit from a young leader.

"We've got a very very young country and a very very young leader and that combination going to be dynamite for this country."

Ms Ardern said it had been an incredibly moving few days for her in the Far North.

She said while the atmosphere at Waitangi this year had been more positive and peaceful than in recent years, she did not think people should shy away from challenging 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."

The crowd at the Waitangi dawn service. Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams

The Prime Minister then hosted a BBQ for the public at the nearby waka shelter.

Ms Ardern, who was on sausage and bacon duty, said they catered for 400 people but were running out of food within half an hour.

In a brief speech to the crowd she said she had been told previous prime ministers held a breakfast at a local hotel, but she opted instead to do something for the public.

Ms Ardern will spend some time at the Waitangi festival before returning to Auckland.

National Party leader Bill English is spending Waitangi Day in Bluff.Last year, when he was prime minister, he opted not to go to Waitangi, saying there was too much disorganisation and disruption at Te Tii Marae.

But this year all of the events have been shifted to the marae on the Treaty Grounds.

Mr English said that decision, made by the Waitangi National Trust board, appeared to have been a good one.

"It's been great to see the dignity restored to that event where people have been able to enjoy the Waitangi Day significance for New Zealand rather than have to put up with what used to happen in the run up to it."

Mr English said he will be attending Ngāi Tahu's official commemoration events at Bluff.

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