The Government could soon go out with an amended deed of mandate it hopes will finally lead to a Treaty of Waitangi settlement for Ngapuhi - the country's largest tribe.
But while Tuhoronuku, one side of the tribe, says it will be a step forward, the other side - Te Kotahitanga o nga Hapu Ngapuhi - says more work is needed before the mandate can be approved and unlock several hundred million dollars' worth of Treaty settlements.
Tuhoronuku, a subsidiary of Te Runanga O Ngapuhi, says it has a mandate from tribal members to carry out settlement negotiations after polling Ngapuhi members in 2011. However, Kotahitangi, which represents Ngati Hine, disputed it was a mandate because fewer than 17.5 per cent of members had endorsed it.
In a letter to both sides this week, Minister of Treaty negotiations Chris Finlayson said, subject to Tuhoronuku making changes to its mandate, it would advertise the deed of mandate around June 30 for six weeks. If most Ngapuhi recognised it, it would be followed by elections and the establishment of an independent, mandated authority from next February.
Stage two of the Waitangi Tribunal's hearings into Ngapuhi claims began recently and Mr Finlayson said the Government was open to entering Treaty settlement negotiations alongside the Tribunal hearings. He said the Tuhoronuku vote indicated a significant level of support for the Tuhoronuku deed of mandate. The organisation sent out 29,839 voting forms and of the 6759 returned (22.5 per cent of those sent) 5210 (72 per cent of returned forms, but only 17.4 per cent of those sent) backed the mandate.
In a letter to both sides this week, Minister of Treaty negotiations Chris Finlayson said ... it would advertise the deed of mandate around June 30 for six weeks.Tuhoronuku interim chairman Sonny Tau said the minister's announcement was "truly significant in the enduring Ngapuhi journey to settlement".
"It is now 18 months since Ngapuhi overwhelmingly gave their mandate to Tuhoronuku. Since then, we have listened to people and have worked with them - and the Crown - to strengthen our mandate representation structure," Mr Tau said.
"Minister Finlayson said in his letter that ultimately it is for Ngapuhi to decide a fair and open process. Therefore, we welcome the coming six-week window where the Tuhoronuku mandate will be advertised so our people can assess the amendments and signal their support."
However, Pita Tipene, co-chairman of Te Kotahitanga, said the group was surprised Mr Finlayson had decided to support the Tuhoronuku mandate proposal going to the next stage. The minister had mentioned the Tuhoronuku brand was badly contaminated less than 12 months ago, and more work was required.
Despite the minister advancing a "less than desirable" mandate proposal, there was some comfort where he wrote that "'discussions are still required around amending the deed of mandate and claimant definition'," Mr Tipene said.
"It seems that the minister has gone to great pains to point out that there are still big changes to be made to the mandate before it gets advertised."
He was also pleased Mr Finlayson had emphasised moving to advertise the deed of mandate was "not" recognising a mandate and no final decision on this had been made: "what we've been very pleased with is that Tuhoronuku have taken on board key aspects of our plan that would ensure an enduring settlement, albeit through pressure applied by the Crown and not through a willingness to work in good faith."