Ngapuhi leader Sonny Tau has extended an olive branch to his opponents in the tribe's settlement rift, saying he is willing to talk to anyone and the settlement model can still be changed.
Mr Tau, who chairs Te Runanga-a-iwi o Ngapuhi and Tuhoronuku Independent Mandated Authority, was giving evidence yesterday at the end of a week-long urgent hearing by the Waitangi Tribunal into how Ngapuhi's grievances should be settled.
Fifteen hapu have lodged claims saying they had been disadvantaged by the Crown's decision to hold direct negotiations with Tuhoronuku.
Mr Tau said anyone who wanted to meet Tuhoronuku was welcome.
"And if you don't want Tuhoronuku members on the board, or me as chairman, there is a process whereby you can choose someone else."
He also appealed directly to his main opponents, the leaders of the hapu collective Te Kotahitanga: "I want you at the table. We are much, much stronger together."
Mr Tau said he would do things differently if he could start again, but defended advertising Tuhoronuku's mandate a day after former Prime Minister Jim Bolger's attempts to unite the factions, saying he did not want to delay any longer. He also believed Tukoroirangi Morgan's proposal for a new settlement model would have taken Ngapuhi backwards.
"I thought he wasn't facilitating between the parties, he just wanted to be the man with the silver bullet."
Mr Morgan's report contained some good ideas which had been incorporated into the Tuhoronuku model, he said.
He defended the robustness of the Tuhoronuku's mandate and attempts to reach as many Ngapuhi as possible with "the biggest communications campaign in the history of iwi Maori".
Despite the strength of feeling from the hundreds of people present, there were only minor disruptions. One woman marched silently in front of the Tribunal with a United Tribes flag; a kaumatua interjected and waved a pair of boxing gloves, a reference to Mr Morgan's description of the two sides as boxers squaring off across a ring. "We should be fighting the Crown, not each other," he shouted. Both were led back to their seats by plain-clothes police.
Claimant lawyer Jason Pou challenged Mr Tau on the low participation rate in the mandating process, the large number of votes cast outside Northland, and a lack of rules forcing Tuhoronuku members to disclose past convictions. He welcomed the offer of discussions and further changes to Tuhoronuku, "to see if we can get close enough to close the gap".
Also due to speak at the Copthorne Hotel in Waitangi yesterday were Titewhai Harawira, Kara George, Mere Mangu, Toko Tahere and Carol Dodd.