Veteran Ngāpuhi chairman Raniera ''Sonny'' Tau is facing the first serious challenge for his seat on the tribe's board in many years.

A postal ballot to represent the Hauāruru takiwā (the district which covers Kaikohe and Ōtaua) on the 10-seat Te Rūnanga-ā-iwi o Ngāpuhi board closed on Monday, with the last votes due to be cast in person at the takiwā's AGM at Kohewhata Marae last night.

Tau has been unopposed as the Hauāruru trustee for many years but this time he has been challenged by Clinton Dearlove of Ōtaua, a former political candidate who teaches at Broadwood Area School.

Clinton Dearlove campaigns as a Mana Party candidate in 2011. Photo / file
Clinton Dearlove campaigns as a Mana Party candidate in 2011. Photo / file

If Tau loses the takiwā trustee election he will be ineligible for the position of rūnanga chairman, a position he has held since 2008, and would likely have to step down after the rūnanga's AGM currently scheduled to take place in November.

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Tau has long enjoyed strong support in the Ngāpuhi heartland around Kaikohe but that has been eroded in recent years due to controversies such as a conviction over possessing protected kūkupa and ructions at the Omapere-Rangihamama Trust, which runs a large farming operation near Kaikohe.

The iwi has also been divided over the issue of who should hold the mandate to negotiate its Treaty claim with the Crown.

Dearlove has unsuccessfully stood for Parliament as a Mana Party candidate in Te Tai Tonga in 2011 and as an independent in Te Tai Tokerau in 2014.

He told Radio Waatea he decided to contest the takiwā election after getting involved in last year's Ngāpuhi Taniwharau protests against the rūnanga's leadership.

Each takiwā holds a trustee election every three years. The 10 takiwā, of which nine are currently active, represent Ngāpuhi across Northland as well as in the major cities.