Waitangi Tribunal hearings in Northland are in jeopardy because of uncertainty around who will foot the bill, a prominent Treaty claimant says.
In July the tribunal is due to conduct it's third week of hearings into the Te Paparahi o Te Raki inquiry which takes in claims from the country's largest tribe, Ngapuhi. But just like the first two rounds of hearings which have already been held it's not clear if the main funder, the Crown Forestry Rental Trust, will be in a position to pay because of infighting.
Treaty Negotiations minister Christopher Finlayson had to ask cabinet to approve funding for the earlier rounds - believed to be $165,000 after the rental trust became hamstrung by internal legal action involving its constituent board members who represent the Federation of Maori Authorities and the New Zealand Maori Council.
Neither group have been able to agree on who will replace board member Sir Edward Durie, who represents the Maori Council, when he has a conflict of interest.
It's an issue which Sir Edward initially filed high court proceedings on. He had wanted broadcaster John Tamihere for his alternate.
Claimant Pita Tipene said Ngapuhi people were beyond frustrated at the continual uncertainty and described the issue between FOMA and the Maori Council as "narcissistic."
"There's no doubt that egos are getting in the way in terms of the respective bodies, both FOMA and the Council. They are being huge obstacles and Ngapuhi remains a victim of their inadequacy."
FOMA chairwoman Traci Houpapa said the issue had "unneccasarily and unfairly"affected claimants, many of whom were FOMA members.
"We share the frustrations of our members."
Council media spokeswoman Rahui Katene said the groups had met three times since February. "I know that they're getting closer to a solution and the discussion has been very good, but how close they are to the solution I don't know."
Morale amongst staff has also fallen within the Crown Forestry Rental Trust over the issue.
One insider said: "This delay is denying [claimants'] access to justice. It's going to get worse and worse."
Mr Finlayson told the Herald he unhappy history was repeating itself.
Asked if his ministry, the Office of Treaty Settlements would pay for the upcoming tribunal hearings, Mr Finlayson said that was not a given.
Crown Forestry Rental Trust: Frequently asked questions
What is the Crown Forestry Rental Trust?
Central funding body for the treaty sector. It holds earnings from Crown Forests, and uses the cash to pay for treaty negotiations, Waitangi Tribunal hearings and research. At the beginning of the year rental proceeds totalled $236.4 million, retained earnings $108.3 million.
Why is it internally divided?
Two bodies, the Federation of Maori Authorities and the New Zealand Maori Council, appoint members to the rental trust. Sir Edward Durie represents the council. An issue has arisen over who would replace Sir Edward as an alternate should a conflict of interest arise. Neither group have been able to agree on who should replace him.
Why is it important?
Instability at the board level throws uncertainty into funding tribunal hearings, that has the potential to slow the pace of the Waitangi Tribunal's work.