A "divide and rule" tactic used by the Government and developers in negotiating with Māori is behind the conflict at Ihumātao, a Māori academic says.
Hundreds have turned out this week to protest the Fletcher housing development being built near the sacred Ōtuataua Stonefields Reserve, in Auckland.
The protests are being led by Pania Newton and her cousins who have been pushing for the land, purchased by Fletcher in 2016, to be returned to iwi.
But Te Warena Taua, who chairs local iwi Te Kawerau a Maki and nearby Makaurau Marae, backs the development, which would see a quarter of the disputed land returned to mana whenua, and houses set aside for their people.
He had previously unsuccessfully challenged the process in court, and told the Herald in November last year it was the best deal the iwi could get.
However, Newton said the deal was not good enough, and has called on the Government to intervene and purchase the land - which Fletcher said in February it would be open to.
This week both Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Te Arawhiti/Māori Crown Relations minister Kelvin Davis said the matter was for mana whenua, and stepping in would override the process.
University of Auckland Māori studies professor Dr Margaret Mutu said putting the blame on disputing Māori factions was a "divide and rule" tactic used in all negotiations.
"It is the number one issue that comes up from interviewing Treaty claimants. In negotiations, a group or individual is given a mandate, and then put under incredible pressure to get the settlement over the line.
"But in the end there is no negotiation, from a Māori view, it is all defined in terms set by the Crown, or in this case a developer, and mostly involving financial settlements.
"It leads to disputes within and/or between iwi or hapū, and leads to outcomes in favour of the Crown."
The disputed land at Ihumātao was originally confiscated from Māori in 1863, and sold to the Wallace family in 1869. In 2014 it was designated Special Housing Area 62, and onsold to Fletcher in 2016.
There were at least three iwi with connections to the land but as it was privately owned it could not be part of Treaty negotiations.
Mutu said the solution was simple: the Government needed to buy the land off Fletcher and return it. Fears it would open the floodgates for private land across the country to be returned were unfounded, she said.
"It is not as if Māori are asking for the whole country, just areas where (it has) been onsold by the government that have a really strong impact, and Ihumātao is a classic example.
"The group is not asking for it so it can profit, but so it can give back to New Zealand. That must speak volumes."
Forty years ago, similar divisions existed during the 507-day occupation at Bastion Point/ Takaparawhā, Sharon Hawke said.
Her father, Joe Hawke, led the occupation to have Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei land, originally confiscated by the Crown for defence purposes, returned, but there was opposition from kaumatua who wanted the campaign dropped.
"It suited [then Prime Minister] Robert Muldoon that there were certain parts of the tribe with opinions that aligned with his, and so he would only engage with them.
"Divide and rule is a universal tool, used especially among indigenous peoples. But we need to focus on what the real enemy is, it is not ourselves as Māori."
Hawke, who was a teenager during the occupation, said it was a real "political awakening" for her, and she saw many similarities with Ihumātao. Her father Joe and mother Rene visited Ihumātao on Thursday to show support.
"It involves Māori making a claim against injustice, by way of occupation. We did it 40 years ago, and it is sad to see it happening again here."
Rather than a generational divide, she saw it as simply the reality of differing views.
"Te Warena has been through a long, lonely time – he didn't have hundreds coming out to attend meetings he attended. He did what he thought was best for his people.
"But now young people across the board are becoming more aware of their situation, those who have inherited some of the benefits of the Land March, of Bastion Point, of the protests at Raglan, and become more aware of the issues.
"They are looking at what was achieved, and in some cases deciding it was not good enough. It is their right to bear witness, and be part of something."