Michael Dreaver has listened patiently for 45 minutes on a muggy afternoon in Ranui. The ranchslider is open, assisted by an electric fan battling for breeze, in the cramped pensioner flat. It's a lost cause. The air doesn't budge and everyone sits quietly steaming.
The atmosphere is pretty tense too. Around the small dining table are Lou Paul, Hori Kupenga Manuka, John Paaka Edwards, Sabrina Kidwell and Eriapa Uruamo representing the iwi of Te Taou. I'm in the background with other observers.
Dreaver is no stranger to tension. He was the chief Crown negotiator in the Tamaki Makaurau settlement signed by 12 Auckland tribes last year.
The go-between man for facilitator Sir Douglas Graham, Dreaver is mostly seen as the one who takes the heat out of Treaty negotiations. To others - possibly some in the room - he's known as Michael Cleaver, the Crown hatchet man.
The group, led by Paul (Paora Kawharu), has delivered a forceful, at times passionate, message.
Their grievance is being excluded from the $22.1 million Kaipara settlement, a deal which includes an offer to purchase the 12,500ha Woodhill Forest, plus accumulated rentals from the Crown forest licence.
"We do not accept it. We oppose it," says Paul. "We have no option because we are being forced to go under a tupuna to which we don't belong and which we don't descend from."
Dreaver is unmoved. As far as he's concerned the group can partake of the settlement - all they have to do is sign up under the Crown's mandated parties, Ngati Whatua o Kaipara or Te Runanga o Ngati Whatua.
Therein lies a seemingly insurmountable problem. Te Taou wants to be recognised as separate from Ngati Whatua. For Te Taou, it's a problem of wrong whakapapa and wrong history - the result of a Treaty settlement process hell-bent on expediency ahead of historical accuracy.
What they wanted was funds to hold mandating hui to establish their legitimacy - something all other tribes in the region have been given. At the moment Paul says Te Taou can show 500 members but he believes there are many more - Maori who live in ignorance of their ancestry, their history and their connection to the Te Taou tribal rohe.
Paul explains that groupings like Ngati Whatua o Kaipara are not recognised hapu or iwi and, adding insult to injury, are planning to represent Te Taou under the wrong ancestor.
"The eponymous tupuna of Te Taou is certainly not Haumoewaarangi [aka Haumoewharangi and/or Haumoewarangi]," says Paul. "We have just been lumped under this group and this tupuna." He says Te Taou's original tupuna is Toutara.
The tribe has been here before.
In 2006, finding itself excluded from the Tamaki Makaurau settlement, Te Taou sparked an urgent inquiry to the Waitangi Tribunal, which was subsequently joined by 11 other tribes contesting Ngati Whatua's sole claim in the region.
All except Te Taou received a settlement. Now it's happening again, with Te Taou shut out of the Kaipara deal, which is on the verge of proceeding from Agreement in Principle to Deed of Settlement.
Te Taou seems destined to go down in history as the lost tribe - first of Tamaki and now of Kaipara. On each occasion it has lost out to the more powerful grouping of Ngati Whatua.
"We believe a lot of Te Taou's grievances are actually against Maori themselves," says Paul. "We believe other Maori have taken or are about to take every thing that Te Taou ever owned."
It's particularly galling to members of the tribe who can show a direct line of descent to tupuna who lived on land about to be handed over to others.
To make their point a group gather at Puketapu (the Woodhill State Forest) - many of them bringing photographs of their tupuna.
Paul carries an 1866 sketch of his great-great grandfather Paora Kawharu, who was a major shareholder in the forest, and a photo of his father, Uramao Otene Paora Kawharu, a lieutenant in the 28th Maori Battalion who was killed in action in 1943.
Sabrina Netana/Kidwell has come with her mokopuna and counts seven generations of families standing in the forest. Earlier she has told Dreaver: "We are very different to Ngati Whatua and we oppose what they do to our tupuna."
She also reminds him of the traumatic effect the 1963 bus accident on the Brynderwyn Hills had on the tribe. The crash claimed 15 lives, including Te Taou kaumatua and kuia. "Our family was devastated by that tragedy. All we could do was hold each other and give each other support. All we want is our family back, together with the truth of who we are. It is a matter of respect."
Hori Kupenga Manuka stands in the forest with a photo of his great grandfather Hori Kupenga Manuka-Manuka. It was his father, Mate Rewha-Rewha Manuka-Manuka, who gifted land at Puatahi to Ngati Rongo. Manuka is angry because the land is now part of the Kaipara redress, yet no one has consulted him.
A 4ha block in Helensville gifted to the Crown for public purposes, but wrongly transferred to the Helensville Town Board, is also part of the settlement redress.
Paul points out the land was gifted by Te Otene (Kai) Kikokiko of Te Taou and yet it is about to be given to Ngati Whatua o Kaipara.
Paul tells Dreaver how disillusioned Te Taou is with the settlement process.
Frustration hangs in the hot, humid air.
"From the Crown's perspective, Ngati Whatua is a modern construct,"continues Dreaver. "It is a modern entity which was established over the last 30 to 80 years and it is made up of a number of constituent parts. And you're right, Ngati Whatua o Kaipara is not an iwi in its own right, or a hapu in its own right. Nor is Orakei, nor Te Uri o Hau. Te Roroa possibly. And nor is the Runanga of Ngati Whatua. But you put all those parts together and they represent the Crown's view - the entirety of those who are members of the wider Ngati Whatua."
We believe other Maori have taken or are about to take every thing that Te Taou ever owned. Lou PaulLou Paul (front) holds pictures of his father (left), Uramao Otene Paora Kawharu, and his great-great-grandfather, Paora Kawharu, at Woodhill State Forest to demonstrate Te Taou's historic ties to the disputed land. Picture / Steven McNicholl
Dreaver then repeats a message Te Taou has heard before: they are able to benefit from the Tamaki and Kaipara settlements by joining one of the designated Ngati Whatua "modern constructs". The meeting ends politely with a karakia, a waiata and an impasse.
Could the Crown, as Te Taou contends, be about to give land and cash to the wrong people? It has been wrong before. In 2006 it was about to proclaim Ngati Whatua o Orakei mana whenua of Tamaki Makaurau and settle all claims in the area with the one tribe. Following the urgent inquiry to the Waitangi Tribunal instigated by Te Taou, history changed. Suddenly Auckland had 12 tribes. Who knew?
"Te Taou is a distinct land-holding iwi of Southern Kaipara," says author and historian Agnes Sullivan. "There is no doubt whatsoever about that."
Sullivan has no doubt also that Te Taou, under chief Wahaakiaki, was primarily responsible for the conquest of Tamaki. She says the historical confusion arises from two Native Land Court cases in 1866 and 1868. "The land court evidence is flawed in a lot of ways that weren't realised until quite recently," she says. Some of the problems occurred in the process of English to Maori translation, but a further distortion was because the cases centred on the chiefs of those in residence - mainly in Orakei - at the time. Sullivan says they naturally presented their own viewpoint - a viewpoint that excluded others.
The result, says Sullivan, is that Judge Francis Dart Fenton's account of the conquest of Tamaki is "scrambled eggs". Most of the confusion revolves around the Ngati Whatua. "The name is a box of fishhooks because it needs to be defined by the context and the time and the person talking about it," she says. "But the traditional sources are quite clear. Two distinct iwi made an invasion of Southern Kaipara in the 18th century - Te Taou and Ngati Whatua."
There are plenty of other historians - Angela Ballara, Richard Nightingale, Lily George, Geoff Watson - who concur with what Sullivan says. Yet, as George points out in her research, "For over 130 years Te Taou has been recorded in literature and in common sense understandings as being in a subordinate position to the corporate body of the tribe of Ngati Whatua."
It's a wrong Paul has been trying to put right for 18 years, ever since he discovered the last will and testament of his father, Uramao Otene Paora Kawharu. It showed land blocks at Rewiti he held shares in and the Certificates of Title listed Te Taou as the tribe to which the land belonged. Yet when Paul questioned kaumatua and kuia about this information, he was told: "All you need to know is that Ngati Whatua is your tribe and Te Taou is your hapu, forget the rest."
Paul didn't forget and now has plenty of evidence from his tupuna to show a different story, a different history. But no one wants to know - not the Crown and certainly not Ngati Whatua, both of whom maintain the story of Te Taou subsumed by the bigger "modern construct" both in Tamaki and Kaipara.
Paul doesn't see the Waitangi Tribunal as likely to help either. In May his application for another urgent hearing regarding the Tamaki Makaurau settlement was refused.
So has the Crown got its history wrong? "I am confident that the Crown has taken the right approach - and the Waitangi Tribunal has generally endorsed our approach in Tamaki Makaurau," says Dreaver.
It's a view echoed in a letter sent to Paul in late December from the Minister for Treaty of Waitangi negotiations, Christopher Finlayson. It refers to the Waitangi Tribunal's 2006 report on the Kaipara district which found that "a Ngati Whatua entity larger than a hapu but smaller than a confederation has come to exist" and that while "Te Taou should not be seen as subordinate to a larger 'tribe', kin groups have a right to decide which iwi or hapu names they want to identify themselves with." The Crown's position is that "the overwhelming majority" of the relevant claimant communities, including those who identify with Te Taou, support the settlement framework being pursued.
Paul says Te Taou can't benefit from the existing framework because it doesn't recognise Te Taou's rightful place and because the groups receiving settlement are controlled by Maori with a different agenda, whakapapa and story. Impasse yet again. But while there is no happy ending today, it's clear Te Taou will remain a thorn in the side of both the Crown and Ngati Whatua for generations to come.
Getting things straight
Lou Paul, a leader of the Te Taou iwi, is frustrated by years of dealing with the Government over what his tribe considers its real place in history.
He speaks of a meeting with former Treaty Negotiations Minister Sir Douglas Graham regarding Te Taou's Tamaki claim and his impression that the Crown was interested in nothing else but settling as soon as possible.
Michael Dreaver, the Crown's top man in the Tamaki settlement, leaps to Sir Douglas' defence: "I do take issue with the characterisation of Sir Douglas. He's a very honourable man and I've huge respect for him."
Paul: What is it you object to, Michael?
Dreaver: The idea that history wasn't important and it was all about speed.
Paul: [They were] his words.
Dreaver: That's not the words [I] heard.
John Edwards: I was there.
Paul: I stand here and tell you the truth. He [John] was there. I was there. George [Hori] was there.
Dreaver: I've worked with Sir Douglas for 15 years and I know the man as well as anyone and that's not the way he thinks. Whatever you heard him say, I know the man for who he is and I dispute it.