It has been 184 years since Te Tiriti o Waitangi was first signed in Waitangi on February 6, 1840. When it was signed, it was done so in the spirit of unity and partnership.

One hundred and eighty-four years later, alongside the fight for mana motuhake, the pursuit of kotahitanga continues. Today, marae across Te Waipounamu will once again open their doors to welcome all members of their local communities to gather together and acknowledge Te Tiriti o Waitangi, to educate, to share. I want to acknowledge all those whānau, hapū and iwi, here or at home, who keep the home fires burning, year after year.

At the Hui-ā-Motu last month, Kīngi Tūheitia had the perfect words: “The best protest we can do right now is be Māori; be who we are, live our values, speak our reo, care for our mokopuna, our awa, our maunga … just be Māori. Māori all day, every day, we are here, we are strong.”

We are, and we must remember that.

To me, being Māori is the absolute essence of the Whānau Ora approach. An approach that utilises the unique belief systems, values and practices of Māori to restore and grow ora for whānau, hapū, iwi and the wider hapori. As the Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency for Te Waipounamu, we are proud to uphold te ao Māori every day, to be Māori every day, to witness Māori excellence every day.

We see beyond the news headlines, to the whānau who are doing amazing things for their whānau, hapū, iwi, marae and hapori – the new māra planted; the kura reo growing bigger each and every year, capacity growing on the paepae, a greater number of tamariki on the playing fields, bigger crews for waka ama, larger wānanga.

As we mark the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi 184 years ago, I have hope. Hope that kotahitanga, being authentically Māori, being focused on who we are, will see us through to an even brighter future, one that surpasses even the biggest dreams of our tūpuna.

Because, together, we will determine our future.

Mauri ora