Northland iwi Ngapuhi's treaty settlement which Prime Minister John Key had hoped to reach an initial agreement on this year is likely to take two to three years, partly as a result of internal divisions, iwi leader Sonny Tau says.
Mr Tau is the interim chairman of the Tuhoronuku, the runanga-based group which the Government recognised earlier this year as the Ngapuhi representative group with which it will negotiate.
However Tuhoronuku's mandate has been challenged by some Ngapuhi hapu via the Kotahitanga group.
Tuhoronuku took the step of holding a media briefing at Parliament this afternoon where Mr Tau told reporters his group wanted "to get the story right" over the level of dissent within Ngapuhi over the issue.
In his Waitangi Day speech this year Mr Key held out the prospect of advance payment to Ngapuhi against their eventual settlement and challenged Ngapuhi to put aside its differences saying he was keen to see a deal struck this year.
But Mr Tau this afternoon said: "Because of all of what's going on there's been some delay but we're hopeful we'll see a finish to this in two and half to three years somewhere around that time frame".
He said that facing opponents' criticism of Tuhoronuku was "daily work and we expect to have that type of scrutiny but there's never been an occasion where we haven't refuted what they've said".
"Two years ago Kotahitanga would have had us believe there was a huge opposition but when you come and you examine the votes and when you examine the number of hapu who people have claimed to speak for coming through and actually putting people forward to this independent mandated authority, then you begin to realise there is a silent majority that sits out there. We know we have that out there and whenever we need to harvest that we do and the results are overwhelming."
Elements within Ngaphuhi subtribe Ngati Hine also oppose Tuhoronuku's mandate and have asked the Waitangi Tribunal for an urgent hearing into the Crown's recognition of the group.
It says, among other things, that the Crown has never carried out a transparent and fair process for determining the actual level of opposition to the Tuhoronuku deed of mandate.
A spokesman for Treaty Negotations Minister Chris Finlayson said the Crown had facilitated comprehensive discussions over a number of years between Tuhoronuku and representatives of Kotahitanga, including representatives of Ngati Hine, which resulted in substantial changes to the mandate so there was much greater hapu representation.
"A number of other significant changes were made to the original mandate proposal, including the separation of Tuhoronuku as an independent organisation from Te Runanga, and fresh elections which are currently underway. All Ngapuhi have the opportunity to elect their representatives," the spokesman said.
Elections for places on Tuhoronuku finish up this week with 15 places out of a total of 22 reserved for hapu.
Mr Tau said he was unconcerned about other claimants coming forward to participate in the urgent hearing.
"The fact of the matter is no there isn't. There's more coming in support of our refutal of those accusations."
There was "nothing at all" in the claim for an urgent hearing that hadn't been addressed by Tuhoronuku.
"I'm sure that the Maori land court will see the same thing."