The man who negotiated the controversial Ihumātao housing deal has launched legal action after fellow whānau leaders tried to remove him from the helm of a trust that supports the area's hapū.
The rift is yet another division among the close-knit Ihumātao community in South Auckland, where Fletcher Building wants to build 480 houses on 33-hectares of land it bought in 2016.
The NZX-listed company has always said thorough consultation took place with iwi, frequently referring to Te Kawerau ā Maki iwi authority and Makaurau marae.
The Herald can now reveal division over the housing development has led to legal action among senior whānau leaders at Ihumātao.
Documents also show the High Court action was initiated by the whānau leader whom Fletcher dealt most regularly with.
The dispute involves the four trustees of the Makaurau Marae Māori Trust (MMMT). The charitable trust, established in 2004, is responsible for a range of activities that support the local Ihumātao community and hapū members. Examples include educational grants and funding for marae activities and maintenance.
Earlier this year, three of the trustees attempted to remove trust chairman Te Warena Taua. Taua has been a key player in dealing with Fletcher over the proposed development. He was elected chair in 2013.
Since then, Taua has been instrumental in negotiating 40 houses be made available for whānau in the development. Fletcher has also committed to returning eight hectares of the land it owns to the Kiingitanga.
Documents viewed by the Herald show trustees Edwina Pirihi, Karen Matata-Wong and Christopher Waanga disagreed with Taua over his support for the proposed housing development. They claim they never supported it, and had always assumed Taua was interacting with Fletcher on behalf of Te Kawerau ā Maki iwi authority - a separate Māori organisation which Taua is also chair of.
The documents also highlight disagreement between the trustees over who is mana whenua at Ihumātao - an underlying issue of contention regarding the proposed housing development.
Taua claims that "Te Kawerau ā Maki are mana whenua of Ihumātao". His fellow trustees take a more nuanced stance, and say "they admit that Te Kawerau ā Maki have claimed mana whenua status…..but [it is] just one group of a number of who are mana whenua of Ihumātao".
Notably, Pania Newton and her five cousins - who founded protest group SOUL (Save Our Unique Landscape) and whakapapa to Ihumātao - have always maintained they are not affiliated with Te Kawerau ā Maki. Instead, they point to the Makaurau Marae Māori Trust as the more appropriate governing body.
A minute from High Court justice Matthew Palmer sets out further details of the legal dispute. It shows Taua is responsible for the proceedings, which were initiated on June 14. Papers were served on his fellow trustees - the respondents - three days later.
"Taua seeks declarations that the purported removal of him as chair is invalid and orders restraining his removal as trustee or chair and prohibiting the respondents from abandoning their position of support for the development," Justice Palmer stated.
He also outlined that respondents Pirihi, Matata-Wong and Waanga believed Taua had been acting "without reference to them". "They consider the proposal to remove him as chair was dealt with in a procedurally fair manner and consistent with the MMMT trust deed".
A hearing in the High Court at Auckland has been set down for next month.
Each of the trustees were approached for comment on the case.
Pirihi and Matata-Wong declined to comment as the matter was before the court. Waanga also had no comment. Attempts to contact Taua were unsuccessful.
When asked about the case, Fletcher executive Steve Evans said the company was "aware of legal action", but not the details of the claims.
In response to questions about the robustness of its consultation process with local tangata whenua, Evans said Fletcher "went above and beyond the usual Auckland Council requirements for consultation".
SOUL leader Newton said news of the legal case showed corporations and the Government needed to take a wider approach when consulting on matters impacting Māori.
"They need to consult with a wide variety of affected parties and gain free, prior and informed consent, rather than talking to the self-serving few who accept the development.
She hoped Fletcher would learn from the disagreement it had contributed to among whānau, especially as it would now play out in court.
"Perhaps this might set a new precedent for how they [Fletcher] engage with whānau and iwi moving forward on any new developments.
"What they need to do now is to accept that iwi have always opposed the development".