Whanganui Maori are set to take the next step toward settling the Whanganui River treaty claim tomorrow- but the Uenuku iwi centred on Raetihi wants to delay it.
Initialling a deed of settlement - an agreement in principle - was to happen last month. It is now scheduled to happen in Wellington tomorrow afternoon, though an Uenuku delegation was heading to the capital today to try to stall proceedings.
On Friday Uenuku members also intend to march from Pakaitore/Moutoa Gardens to the Kingsgate Hotel in Victoria Ave where Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson will be continuing talks on the claim. Uenuku fear their interests are not being represented in the negotiations.
In February Uenuku sought an urgent hearing from the Waitangi Tribunal, but the tribunal decided that wasn't necessary because the initialling would be non-binding.
Gerrard Albert, a member of the negotiating team of the Whanganui River Maori Trust Board, said the initialling was delayed in February by last-minute negotiation with the Crown, not by Uenuku's hearing request.
The river claim was being negotiated by the trust board on behalf of everybody, he said.
Uenuku lands have historically extended from the mountains of Ngauruhoe, Tongariro and Ruapehu to the sea and the hapu's new chairman, Aiden Gilbert, said they had not been given a voice.
Members want to see the deed before it was initialled, he said, adding that there were fears that land alongside the Whanganui River and its tributaries would be included in the river claim.
Mr Albert said Uenuku had been repeatedly told that would not happen. He said increasingly detailed information had been provided to everyone through the years of negotiation, and it had been provided to Uenuku in face-to-face meetings since December.
"No land reserves that border the river or its tributaries are being transferred under the proposed settlement," Mr Albert said.
"That Uenuku continues to assert that this is the case after having this explained to them on more than one occasion reflects an agenda that only Uenuku is capable of explaining."
Mr Albert said no one except the negotiation team had seen the deed to be initialled, because negotiations had continued up to the last minute.
The deed was now ready to be initialled but would be non-binding. After initialling, the iwi would have three weeks to discuss it before voting on whether to ratify it.
However, Mr Gilbert said: "Initialling the deed signifies agreement in principle to the proposed settlement, and Uenuku - which comprises 26 hapu - wants to know what's in that agreement before it is initialled.
"We need to know that the voices of our hapu are not being silenced and that they will retain kaitiakitanga of the waterways and lands to which they belong.
"The Crown is pressuring Maori to rush through the claims process. It is choosing to deal with select groups and leaving others out.
"We're one of the largest settlements left, and our issue is that our authority and identity have been usurped by others - and we're not the only ones. Treaty settlements are being pushed forward because of political pressure, but there are fundamental issues that need to be ironed out before settlement can be achieved."
A spokesman for Mr Finlayson yesterday confirmed that the settlement would not affect any future Uenuku negotiations over land, and that all the claimants had been informed of progress.