The Far North District Council last week voted against the provision of Māori wards, a decision that Mayor John Carter would not not disadvantage Māori.
A proposal by Cr Kelly Stratford to establish Māori wards was defeated, the council instead voting 6:4 to ask the community if it wanted them via a binding poll in tandem with the 2022 local government elections.
Haami Piripi, a member of the heavyweight Northland Iwi Chairs Forum (Te Kahu o Taonui), said the council's failure to vote for Māori wards was a "disappointment."
"I really thought we had a level of maturity in the Far North that transcended ethnicities," he said.
"In my experience the relationship with Māori and European here has gone pretty well. But it's the institution of local bodies that has played a major part in disenfranchisement and disempowering our people.
"This decision represents an archaic view there's no room for today. It makes a mockery of the Treaty of Waitangi and the whole notion of equity."
The decision would affect the council's working relationship with Te Kahu o Taonui, he added.
Māori wards were the subject of a lengthy and often contentious livestreamed 90-minute debate before a packed public gallery, Stratford moving the motion in support of Māori seats, seconded by Cr Moko Tepania, who said there had been little formal progress on the council's relationship with Māori in recent years.
But Carter overruled the duo on a point of order, and recommended the 2022 council-initiated poll option.
He said he had had advice that that would be a valid move, but was challenged by chief executive Shaun Clarke, Carter attempting to override his challenge, saying he was the meeting chairman. After Clarke clarified with the council lawyer, Carter and others, the Mayor's amendment was paused, however.
"Council are Treaty partners, tangata whenua being the other partner," Stratford said.
"We need to have Māori at the decision-making table. Having Māori at the table is not guaranteed. Having Māori wards ensures it is not left to chance."
Her move failed in a split 5:5 vote, however. Stratford, Tepania, Crs David Clendon, Rachel Smith and John Vujcich voted in favour of Māori wards, Carter, deputy Mayor Ann Court, Crs Dave Collard, Felicity Foy and Mate Radich against.
Carter's call for the 2022 poll then prevailed, seconded by Collard, supported by Court, Clendon, Foy and Vujcich. Tepania, Smith, Stratford and Radich voted against it.
Collard said he was against separate Māori wards.
"The Prime Minister says we are all a team of five million. We are all New Zealanders," he said.
Meanwhile councillors had been bombarded with hundreds of emails from lobby group Hobson's Pledge in the days leading up to the vote, arriving from around the country at a rate of up to one every four minutes.
Hobson's Pledge is a lobby group formed in 2016 to oppose alleged "Māori favouritism," named after William Hobson, the first Governor-General of New Zealand and co-author of the Treaty of Waitangi.
Hone Mihaka, who was in the public gallery, said he was unhappy with the council's decision, saying it was the constitutional right of Māori to sit at the council table.
The Whangārei District Council will be the last in Northland to vote on Māori wards today. The Northland Regional Council voted 7:1 for Māori constituencies, longtime councillor John Bain resigning and walking out in protest, while the Kaipara District Council voted 7:4, with two abstentions, in favour of them.