A controversial Ngapuhi activist's claim the Maori King has no right to his title has been written off as "tribal chauvinism" by a Treaty of Waitangi historian.

Ngapuhi Matarahurahu hapu leader David Rankin said giving Tainui leader Tuheitia Paki the title "Maori King" breached the sovereignty of other iwi.

Government ministers, departments and crown agencies referring to King Tuheitia as the "Maori King" are violating Article Two of the Treaty, he said.

His claim over the issue had the potential to split Maoridom, he said.

"How can the sovereignty of Ngapuhi be protected if the leader of another tribe is said to be our king? This is clearly a violation of our tino rangatiratanga.

"As far as the Government is concerned, they have no right to use the term "Maori King." Tuheitia could be called the "King of Huntly" perhaps. I could live with that".

Treaty of Waitangi specialist Paul Moon this morning said Mr Rankin's claim was trivial and ultimately pointless.

It was unlikely to reach the threshold of prejudicial effect, which would see it proceed to a hearing, he said.

"This claim seems to me to be a case of tribal chauvinism, and on that basis, we need to ask how will anyone benefit from it?"

Mr Rankin's contention the Maori King movement lessened the sovereignty of other iwi was false, Professor Moon said.

"On the contrary, at several times in history, the king movement has been a bastion of Maori sovereignty that some other iwi have looked to for encouragement".

The Kingitanga movement was born in 1858 as tribes sought to find a leader of status similar to the monarch of the British colonising New Zealand.

The role is widely seen as an expression of Maori unity and holds an established place in New Zealand society.

But Mr Rankin called the movement a "relic of nineteenth century Pakeha colonialism".

King Tuheitia was not a traditional Maori leader and his Ngapuhi ancestors would have been hostile to him taking the title, he said.

"This is not about what Tuheita wants to call himself. That's his problem.

"But when he pretends to be our king, then he needs to show his mandate for that or else change his title."

Tuheitia Paki was elected king after his mother, the former Maori Queen Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu, died in August 2006. A spokesman for the King Tuheitia could not be contacted.