A key group in the impasse over Ngapuhi's settlement has agreed to a new model for negotiating for the iwi, but board ructions over the conditions attached could still scupper the deal.
Minister of Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson will go to Cabinet on Monday to decide whether to push Ngapuhi down the queue for settlements and strip the Tuhoronuku group of its mandate to negotiate for the iwi.
He had warned Tuhoronuku it risked losing its mandate on Monday if it did not agree to a new negotiating model set out in the Maranga Mai report - a hapu-based model worked on by Tuhonoruku, rivals Te Kotahitanga, and the Crown.
Tuhoronuku had earlier rejected the report by 11-10 but after a last-minute meeting on Friday, Tuhoronuku chair Hone Sadler wrote to Finlayson to advise the board had voted by 15-6 to go along with the Maranga Mai proposal and allow a transition of its mandate to a new group to take place.
The letter, leaked to the Herald, said that decision was contingent on the new group meeting accountability standards, continuing with a unified Ngapuhi settlement and allowing for representation of kuia, kaumatua and urban Maori.
The conditions are believed to have prompted the resignation of four of the Tuhoronuku board members after the meeting, claiming the board had refused to sign up to all of Maranga Mai's recommendations.
They were Moana Tuwhare, Sam Napia, Sheryl Turner and Helene Leaf. Two more are understood to be considering resigning.
Tuwhare, one of Tuhoronuku's representatives involved with Maranga Mai, told Radio NZ the process had been a waste of time for all concerned.
The ructions will cause Finlayson concern but Sadler said yesterday he believed Tuhoronuku had met all of Finlayson's demands and he had no reason not to accept Tuhoronuku's ongoing role.
He said the four who resigned had protested over the board's wishes for urban, kuia and kaumatua representation in the new model.
However, one source said the board's letter was brinkmanship from Tuhoronuku to stop Finlayson removing the mandate and to give them ballast to take legal action if Finlayson did take that step.
A spokeswoman for Finlayson said he had been advised of the decisions made by Tuhoronuku and would discuss it with Cabinet but would not comment further.
The Crown has spent $4 million in attempts to settle the issue of the mandate to negotiate for Ngapuhi, a process that has taken seven years and counting.
Finlayson's goal is to resolve the commercial redress of any settlement by August 2017 and cultural and historical redress over a longer period.
However, the impasse over the mandate had prompted him to tell Ngapuhi he would have to delay their settlement and bring other iwi forward in 2017 if they could not agree.
The Maranga Mai report was the result of negotiations between the Crown, Tuhoronuku, and a rival group of hapu - Te Kotahitanga.
It was set up after the Waitangi Tribunal found broader hapu buy-in was needed for Tuhoronuku's mandate, which was recognised by the Crown in 2011.
There was a last-minute flurry of correspondence between Sadler and Finlayson, including over Sadler's' concerns Maranga Mai would result in a fractured settlement by hapu rather than a unified Ngapuhi settlement.
Finlayson wrote to Sadler on Thursday to reassure him the Maranga Mai report still proposed a unified approach.
Finlayson had also raised concern about a report Tuwhare, who represents Waimate hapu, had resigned.
Sadler warned him off interfering, saying other hapu were available to take the position and given the "litigious" nature of things, the Crown should not interfere.