The country's biggest tribe is negotiating an agreement that would deliver jobs and prosperity for its members but fierce infighting is hindering the process and costing hundreds of millions in lost income

Sonny Tau, chairman of Te Runanga a iwi o Ngapuhi, rattles off a list of what's stalling his people's development in the north.

It makes for grim reading and includes things like a lack of jobs, impoverished living conditions, poor health and missed educational opportunities.

One in five Maori are Ngapuhi but the country's largest iwi could also be its most fractured and are languishing as Maori outside their borders progress into an era that will soon be termed post-settlement.

Ngapuhi, whose boundaries include Waitangi itself, are on the verge of negotiating what could be the largest Treaty settlement in history, which some say could be as high as $250 million. But in-fighting could further delay what's already been a drawn-out process.


It's something that grates with Mr Tau, whose involvement with Ngapuhi's Treaty of Waitangi claims goes back to when his father gave evidence in the Ngawha Waiariki hearings in 1983.

"Ngapuhi talk about Tino Rangatiratanga, which means self-determination," says Mr Tau.

"But I have never seen any iwi, nation, clan or whatever gain that without a strong economic base."

The iwi have a saying that defines them: "Ngapuhi kohao rau" or "Ngapuhi of a hundred holes", which reflects the diversity and, in some cases, fierce independence of more than 300 hapu within its tribal boundaries.

The saying also reflects the sometimes tense relationships among the different hapu that saw once bitter territorial enemies, Kawiti and Hone Heke, side with each other to fight the British.

The lines of division these days are between a collection of different hapu under the umbrella of Te Kotahitanga o nga hapu o Ngapuhi, and Tuhoronuku - a pan-tribal body, previously part of the runanga (tribal assembly), that was last month mandated by the Crown to settle its Treaty of Waitangi claims on behalf of Ngapuhi.

Tuhoronuku has broken away from the runanga to become an independent body. It is undertaking an election process now to determine who its members will be.

Te Kotahitanga, whose members include hapu from the Hokianga, Ngati Hine and Te Kapotai among others, says it will challenge the mandate through the non-binding Waitangi Tribunal process.

If that fails it is considering taking things to the High Court.

Te Kotahitanga says it gives voice to the many hapu it says feel disempowered by the runanga and the Crown in the settlement process.

"We want a settlement and we want it sooner rather than later," says spokesman Pita Tipene. "However, the Crown continues to manipulate the process and hence the delays."

Mr Tipene said the 21 weeks organised for Tribunal hearings for the entire area was realistic and would aid future negotiations.

"As said publicly by Margaret Mutu, 'going into any Treaty negotiations without a Tribunal report is like going to war without any bullets for your guns'," he said.

"At the moment the agenda is being pushed by the Crown and Tuhoronuku is just a vehicle that is aiding and abetting that agenda."

Mr Tipene said the current process was "tearing Ngapuhi apart" and will "create huge fractures in regional relationships for generations to come".

"The Crown has used over $3 million of taxpayers' money to fund this process which simply pits Ngapuhi against Ngapuhi."

So marked is the split that former Prime Minister Jim Bolger and Tainui heavyweight Tuku Morgan were brought in to mediate between the two groups - both without success.

It's also been a long process just to get here and comes as Tainui approaches the 20th anniversary of its Treaty settlement with the Crown for $170 million. In 2018 Ngai Tahu will celebrate the same milestone.

Both are now major players in the Maori and national economy and have a collective asset base worth more than $1.5 billion.

Mr Tau says the delay in settling is costing Ngapuhi millions of dollars each year in lost interest alone - money he says could desperately be used for the betterment of his people.

His sentiments are shared by Labour MP Shane Jones, himself of Ngai Takoto and Te Aupouri descent, who is among many to implore Ngapuhi to put their differences aside.

Mr Jones said had Ngapuhi settled for $170 million and invested the sum continuously since 1997 in a mix of assets at 6.5 to 7 per cent, the iwi's financial base would now be $449 million.

The figures, provided to him by the Parliamentary Library Service, showed that if Ngapuhi invested in the sharemarket that figure would have been closer to $486 million.

"And those are very conservative figures," he said.

But Mr Tipene says Te Kotahitanga wants a settlement that retains hapu mana and rangatiratanga, is fair and isn't rushed at the expense of a proper process and unity.

"We seek to ensure that the principles apply to the processes, systems and structures at all levels between nga hapu and the Crown. The resolution of the claims must reinforce and strengthen hapu mana and rangatiratanga and have the necessary support of the people."

Ngapuhi, he said, was easily the biggest and most complex hearing region in the country, with natural groupings within the rohe such as Hokianga and the Bay of Islands that easily dwarf most large hearing regions.

The Crown has said it will allow the settlement and Tribunal hearings to continue as a parallel process but Professor Patu Hohepa of the Hokianga doubts it will work because it is interfering with the Waitangi Tribunal claims. "The information must be put down so that the next generations can look at it," he said.

"There is no such thing as a full and complete settlement until Tino Rangatiratanga is achieved."

Mr Tau says it took six years for Tuhoronuku to get the mandate and Ngapuhi waited four years for the first hearings report.

"This is the holdup, as Kotahitanga want all the reports from the Tribunal published before they can begin the process of settling."

Dr Pita Sharples, co-leader of the Maori Party, said settlement money would make a huge impact to the communities of Te Taitokerau but the agreement was about the Crown acknowledging past wrongs.

"It's about having your history corrected, and told in a way that is empowering; it is about seeking justice for your ancestors, and a future for your children, and being freed finally to look forward, to look to your own development as whanau, hapu and iwi.

"Ngapuhi kohao rau. Ngapuhi of a hundred holes. It is no mean feat to ask that they come together to progress this kaupapa, but if they can find unity in this process they would be a force to be reckoned with."

Four Ngapuhi elders give their views

Professor Patu Hohepa

Hapu: Te Mahurehure, Te Kapotai, Ngati Hine, Ngati Wai

Professor Hohepa says the people of the Hokianga - like those of Ngati Hine and others - have withdrawn their support for Tuhoronuku, the body mandated to negotiate with the Crown on behalf of Ngapuhi.

He says Tuhoronuku do not have the appropriate mandate to represent Ngapuhi and Te Kotahitanga o nga hapu o Ngapuhi will challenge this through the Waitangi Tribunal's hearings process.

If that fails, he said Te Kotahitanga would consider going to the High Court. However, a spokesman from Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson's office said he was unaware of any successful court challenge to a mandate process via an injunction or similar.

Professor Hohepa says Ngapuhi argue the Crown had it wrong right from the beginning from the mistranslation and misuse of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. He believes all of Ngapuhi's grievances need to be heard so the wrongs aren't forgotten.

"It is not the speed, it's whether we get justice and whether we feel our grievances have been addressed by the current system."

Kingi Taurua
Te Tii marae kaumatua

The former SAS soldier, now a broadcaster, is among those who believe settlements should be done on a hapu by hapu basis - no matter how long it may take.

He also fears for the validity of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and its acceptance post-settlement phase.

Mr Taurua says his ancestors were affected by dodgy land deals including one by Henry Williams for 4451ha (11,000 acres) at Pakaraka that occurred well before the Treaty was signed in 1840.

"The area I lost was more than what's being offered. Other areas within Ngati Hine would be worth more than $170 million - that's what the Government is frightened of."

"I don't care how it takes as long as we kia mau [hold] fast to the signatories of the kaumatua and the kuia. If money is worth more than that then get rid of those documents [the Treaty]."

David Rankin
Hapu: Te Matarahurahu

The outspoken Mr Rankin argued in the past that hapu should be left to exercise Tino Rangatiratanga when it comes to Treaty claims.

But he said every day that Ngapuhi delayed its settlement was a day without jobs, educational opportunities, adequate medical facilities and sufficient social services.

"Yes, we have differences and there are valid concerns about who has the mandate to represent us," he said.

"But you can't look into the face of a kid who is homeless or a kid who is sick because of a cold damp house, or a kid who can't afford to go to university and tell them that the reasons for these things is that the mandate hasn't been agreed on."

He laid down a challenge to his fellow Ngapuhi to put aside their differences for the benefit of their children and to transform the region from one of poverty to one of prosperity.

"Two centuries ago, our ancestor Hongi Hika went to England to get muskets to assert the power and mana of Ngapuhi.

"In the modern world, a Treaty settlement would help us achieve the same thing, because it is through the potential for development that comes from a Treaty settlement that we can once more rise up and assert our mana. We see Tainui doing it, we see Ngai Tahu doing it, but we don't see Ngapuhi there yet."

Haami Piripi
Hapu: Te Rarawa

The chair of Te Runanga o Te Rarawa says the Ngati Hine iwi, who have aligned with Te Kotahitanga, have always held an important place within Ngapuhi.

"The ariki lines of genealogy that lead to Kawiti mana have always displayed a captaincy of our iwi affairs.

"The subsequent leadership of Tau Henare and his association with the young Maori Party in the early 1900s followed through with political influence and today Ngati Hine continue to produce young rangatira who were born to lead.

"It has always been of great concern that Ngati Hine have sought to sever themselves from the Ngapuhi Runanga and more recently Tuhoronuku.

"To extract a hapu like Ngati Hine from on-going Ngapuhi development robs the entire iwi of its potential. Aside from the advantage gained for Ngati Hine, the effect on the wider iwi of Ngapuhi would be severely debilitating. This is exasperated by the oasis mirage which is created by the Treaty claims industry

"Once hapu think they see this mirage, they chase after it like fool's gold, and the more unprepared and disempowered the hapu is, the more chance there will be for them to chase the mirage.

"This is the case with several hapu leaders advocating for the Kotahitanga o Nga Hapu approach. Right now they find strength by unifying with the battle of secession by Ngati Hine from the iwi of Ngapuhi. Ngati Hine leaders should not countenance this approach to iwi development in Te Taitokerau, and must put aside its own iwi aspirations in order to resume their rightful place in the leadership of Ngapuhi.

"Indeed it is sacrilege for discord to continue when brilliant young leaders lie on both sides of the argument and are right now on a collision course, the price of which will be our iwi sovereignty."

Crunch time for country's largest iwi

Q: Who are Ngapuhi?

The country's biggest iwi, with 125,000 people claiming descent to Ngapuhi at the last Census. One in five Maori are Ngapuhi and there are more than 300 hapu or sub-tribes within the rohe.What's happening?

Ngapuhi are on the verge of negotiating their Treaty settlement with the Crown. The mandated body Tuhoronuku Iwi Mandated Authority will shortly hold elections to select members but the Waitangi Tribunal is also holding hearings in the Ngapuhi boundaries. More than 350 claims are to be heard and they will continue in parallel with settlement negotiations. A number of hapu under the umbrella of a group calling themselves Te Kotahitanga o nga hapu o Ngapuhi want the hearings process to be completed before settlement and are challenging Tuhoronuku's mandate.

Q: What are Ngapuhi's claims?

Ngapuhi iwi claim customary interests in the Mahurangi, Kaipara, Tamaki Makaurau, Whangarei, Bay of Islands, Whangaroa, Hokianga and Muriwhenua regions. Ngapuhi runanga chairman Sonny Tau has said the tribe is seeking redress of at least $500 million.

Q: How long has it taken to get here?

It has taken six years to get a mandate after more than 60 hui-a-iwi held throughout New Zealand and Australia - the longest in any settlement process to date.