Two Maori leaders have criticised the Far North District Council over its plan to conduct a non-binding referendum early next year to indicate whether future council elections should include Maori wards.
Ngati Kuri Iwi Trust Board chairman Harry Burkhardt said his authority was "very grumpy" with the council, given that the decision to conduct the poll had been made without consultation with Muriwhenua iwi.
The council had forgotten the high-level partnership between Maori and the Crown, and that as a government agency councils were tied to that relationship.
"Consultation needs to happen before any decision is made regarding Maori seats," Mr Burkhardt said. "Changes will happen with strong leadership; there's a challenge for the council."
Te Runanga-a-Iwi o Ngapuhi chairman Raniera (Sonny) Tau expressed a similar view. His runanga was "a bit anxious" the council had not talked first to Maori to "bring them up to speed".
I think I can pretty much predict the outcome of any poll at this stage."
The council was a creature of statute, he added, while the full impact of the Waitangi Tribunal's finding that Ngapuhi signatories to the Treaty of Waitangi had not ceded sovereignty to the Crown had yet to be absorbed.
"The first thing the council has to do is consult," Mr Tau added.
He also acknowledged moves by the Mayor of New Plymouth, Andrew Judd, to promote a law change to establish 50/50 Maori/non-Maori representation on councils as courageous, and a good example for the Far North council to follow. Currently 5.7 per cent of elected councillors around the country identify themselves as Maori.
Meanwhile, Mayor John Carter said last week that his view on dedicated Maori seats had not changed, but it was not up to him, or the council, to tell the community what to think. Mr Carter, who described Maori seats as a form of apartheid in the run-up to the 2013 election, said he was still personally opposed, but neither he nor the council would campaign for or against the proposal. Instead it would produce an impartial information sheet and conduct a poll early next year to get some direction from the community.
The council was, however, committed to engaging better with Maori, who made up close to half of the Far North's population.
He added that the council understood that iwi leaders were in favour of Maori wards, because they had supported a proposal by the previous council to introduce them.
There had obviously been a breakdown in communication, which the council would try to rectify by meeting with iwi leaders at the first opportunity.
Alternatives to Maori wards included setting up advisory boards or appointing Maori to standing committees, he added, but whatever option was chosen, constant dialogue was needed at all levels.