A thaw may be starting in the frozen Ngāpuhi Treaty settlement process with hapū looking to set up a new representative group and the government saying it's ready to talk any time.
Treaty negotiations for Ngāpuhi were put on ice in 2019 after the Government withdrew the mandate of Tuhoronuku, an iwi authority set up to hammer out a settlement on the tribe's behalf.
Tuhoronuku's mandate had been recognised by the Crown in 2014 but it failed to win full support of Ngāpuhi's roughly 100 hapū. The Waitangi Tribunal dealt another blow by ruling the mandate was flawed because it didn't protect hapū sovereignty.
Fresh attempts to get negotiations under way led to accusations that the Crown was trying to railroad the tribe into a settlement, with Treaty Negotiations Minister Andrew Little eventually putting the process on hold until Ngāpuhi was ready to talk on its own terms.
Last week, however, the hapū grouping Te Kotahitanga — which was founded in 2009 and had been Tuhoronuku's loudest opponent — held its first meeting in two years.
Ngati Hine leader Pita Tipene, one of the founders of Te Kotahitanga, said participants at last week's meeting had agreed to set up a modern-day equivalent of Te Whakaminenga as soon as possible.
Te Whakaminenga was the confederation of northern hapū born out of the Declaration of Independence (He Whakaputanga) in 1835.
The first issue the new group wanted to broach with the government was sovereignty.
''[The group] would have all of the hapū in one forum to discuss and clarify, and then discuss with government — in this case Andrew Little — as to Ngāpuhi not having ceded sovereignty. Andrew Little had said previously, in public, that he wanted to have that conversation with Ngapuhi, so we're saying we have now met, we will meet again, and sometime soon we'll be ready to have that conversation with the government.''
Tipene said the new group would not necessarily have the name Te Whakaminenga, which had its own history and associations, and would be set up according to the needs of 2021 not 1835.
Little told the Advocate he was ready to talk any time Ngāpuhi was ready.
The government had withdrawn recognition of Tuhoronuku's mandate in 2019 because it clearly wasn't working.
''We always said it's up to ngā hapū o Ngāpuhi to work out how they want to engage with the Crown. If that's where they're at, that's a great thing. We will be ready to engage with them on their terms when they wish.''
Little said he had noticed, and been encouraged by, a shift to ''a much more positive kōrero'' among hapū in recent times.
He would be back in the North in the next few weeks to continue the dialogue and talk about Crown strategies benefiting Te Tai Tokerau.
''It's an expression of goodwill and good faith about the Crown's commitment to the region regardless of kōrero around Treaty grievances and breaches,'' Little said.
In February this year the Government set up a $150 million fund in a first step towards reaching a Treaty settlement.
The fund was designed to give the Crown more options to put on the table and to make sure hapū didn't miss investment opportunities while they waited to start negotiations.
In 2014 the Waitangi Tribunal released its stage one report of the Northern Inquiry which found Ngāpuhi chiefs didn't cede sovereignty when they signed the Treaty in 1840. It's a finding the Government has largely avoided responding to directly ever since.
Ngāpuhi remains the only major tribe which has yet to sign a settlement.