There should be recognition of the precarious position of Maori unity over water, a central figure says.

Waikato-Tainui's Tom Roa has welcomed more than 60 heads of tribes to the Iwi Chair's Forum today at Turangawaewae Marae.

The meeting follows on from King Tuheitia's national summit on the issue attended by 1000 Maori from around the country.

The meeting resolved that:
* Proprietary rights in water must be settled before the sale of shares in Mighty River Power
* A group should be set up to choose negotiators to deal with the Crown
* If those negotiations fail iwi support a New Zealand Maori Council court challenge.


"The A list of Maoridom were here, the whose who of Maoridom were here - they are part of the decision and they are bound by the decision," said one of the summit chairs, Tuku Morgan, yesterday.

Other iwi, such as Tuhoe, who have accepted a Crown offer for their historical grievances were not at the king's hui. Tuhoe's Tamati Kruger has told the Herald that water is an issue between the tribe and the government only.

Mr Roa is the chairman of the tribe's executive board Te Arataura. The iwi is unique in the country as it was the first to negotiate a co-management deal over the Waikato River.

He said the idea of unity given the realities of how iwi operated had to be recognised: "There is a natural tension ... from the Iwi Leaders Group perspective, each iwi retains it's own mana ... what we have to do in terms of this idea of unity is that we have to respect each other's government. Each iwi decides what is best for that iwi - we must not undermine that."

One of the longterm issues raised yesterday, is if a court case is taken by the Maori Council who would pay. Mr Roa said he was reminded of when another institution the Maori Congress existed.

"Iwi were united but when it came to pay the bills it was left up to the few committed."

The tribe has a relationship agreement with Watercare, which supplies 15 per cent of Auckland's water, less than 1 per cent of the river's flow.

A Watercare spokesman said yesterday before the hui that it had a special relationship with the tribe and didn't expect anything to change if any potential water settlement occurred with Maori.


Mr Roa said discussions with Watercare had been promising.

Asked if that was still the case, given King Tuheitia's stance that the tribe had always owned the water, Mr Roa said: "I hate that word ownership because when I own something, it means exclusively and it's a commodity that I can buy, that I can sell. That's what ownership is but my Maori mind says 'I belong to the water and the water belongs to me."

Asked if a lot of Maori would be confused by the ownership debate, he said: "Absolutely."

Yesterday, Te Rarawa's Haami Piripi said he supported both the Iwi Leaders Group and the Maori Council. But it was clear the ILG with the government hadn't yet achieved the aspirations around water management and kaitiakitanga for Maori.

He said Maori owned water: "We do own the water. We own it because we had a ture [law] here before the Pakeha got here."

The sell-down of Mighty River Power was an opportunity to get movement on both rights and ownership, he said.


"My experience has been in this situation there's only one way we can get a government to listen to us and that's to threaten it...we have to be able to use that leverage make sure we get some more gains."