Donna Hall was warned to tighten security last year after unspecified threats. FRAN O'SULLIVAN, ANGELA GREGORY and MATHEW DEARNALEY report.

Of all Maoridom's Warrior Princesses, Donna Hall sparks the strongest reaction.

The Wellington lawyer whose baby was abducted on Saturday has actively led many controversial Treaty of Waitangi claims.

The high-stakes grievance industry produces winners and losers. Settlements run to multi-millions of dollars. The politics are played hard and dirty.


But Hall's Monday revelation that she has been threatened over a major case has upset many.

At a press conference, she said the case was a "large public law issue involving all Maori in New Zealand".

It did not involve her husband, Judge Eddie Durie, chairman of the powerful Waitangi Tribunal.

But Hall did not elaborate.

Speculation is rife that the controversial Volcanic Interior Plateau claim before the tribunal is the case she refers to.

There are predictions that this will result in a $2 billion payout, which will bust the Government's budget for treaty settlements.

If the payment tops $1 billion, it will lead to further flow-on payments totalling tens of millions of dollars to Tainui and Ngai Tahu.

To remove any suggestions of bias towards his wife's claims, Durie has absented himself. His deputy Joe Williams presides on the case.

Hall has undoubtedly ruffled feathers over this claim for a vast chunk of the North Island, but rival claimants are now playing down any enmity.

Hall represents prominent Maori from three tribal confederations - Te Arawa, Tuwharetoa and Mataatua. Tuwharetoa paramount chief Tumu te Heuheu is among the leaders of the claim.

But other Eastern Bay of Plenty iwi whose claims reach back more than 10 years are concerned at the juggernaut the volcanic interior claim has become.

There have been allegations that the claimants have cornered research funds from the Crown Forestry Rental Trust to pursue their claim at the expense of other iwi.

Maanu Paul, deputy chairman of the Maori Council and manager of a claim by his Ika Whenua tribe over two-thirds of the Kaingaroa Forest, complained loudly of the "Johnny-come-lately" attempt to upstage everyone else.

Tuhoe from the Urewera and Ngati Te Awa from the Mataatua confederation are also affected.

Yesterday, Paul was more relaxed , saying the tribunal had since indicated that it would be careful to determine boundaries before making any recommendations. It would also hear his tribe's claim first.

But Paul is still irked that the Volcanic Interior Plateau claimants have got their hands on $4.9 million when his own tribe does not enough research funds to pursue a case to enforce a tribunal recommendation in its favour.

On Friday, Paul and Tama Nikora, manager of a big adjoining Tuhoe land claim, will demand greater accountability from the forestry rental trust at a hearing of Parliament's Maori affairs select committee in Rotorua.

Paul's Ika Whenua received more than $1 million some years ago to research claims to rivers in its territory, but it is still trying to gain title after the last Government opposed a tribunal recommendation to vest them with the tribe.

His people had planted the vast Kaiangaroa Forest, buoyed by promises of plenty of employment when the wood was ready. Now, all but one of the tree-felling gangs has been laid off.

Paul declared himself "insulted" at implicit suggestions that anyone in Maoridom had a vengeance motive against Hall.

"We have a strong tradition of being face to face with people - this abduction is totally foreign methodology."

Maori lawyer and activist Annette Sykes said she represented more claimants than Hall over the same territory. She was confident Maoridom was not harbouring any kidnappers.

"That's not in our tradition."

Sykes added that Hall "did ruffle feathers. Like me she is not what we call the demure type, but she doesn't deserve that kind of act of retaliation."

Sykes has received death threats, and even bullets in her letterbox, but does not believe her tormentors were Maori.

"Maori leave pork bones and watercress in my letterbox."

Despite frustration at the time it was taking the Crown to settle Maori grievances, and an acknowledgement that Hall was more effective than most at raising money, she was confident the tribunal would reach an acceptable formula for reconciling various claims.

"They are all pointing in the same direction - against the Crown".

The volcanic interior case is not the only area of intense speculation.

Durie has also had his share of obscene phone calls and letters since he released his groundbreaking Muriwhenua report on northern fisheries claims.

There have been suggestions that his wife has launched her own counter-investigation to "dig the dirt" on those suspected of being behind a smear campaign to discredit them.

Defamation writs have been served on the National Business Review.

Hall also tried to get urban Maori a slice of the action from the Treaty of Waitangi Fisheries Commission, set up to manage the allocation of fish quota.

Her clashes with former Ngai Tahu chairman Sir Tipene O'Regan - who previously chaired the fisheries commission - have been bitter and personal.

This reached a low point when the commission sparked police raids on Hall's home and those of other parties such as Shane Jones (now commission chairman himself) to look for confidential documents.

Archie Taiaroa, one of the most pivotal fisheries commissioners, said he was unaware of any threats to Hall involving fisheries.

People were overwhelmed with the horror of the situation and simply wanted to send their "karakia and aroha" (prayers and love) to the Durie family, he said.

The management of the $860 million of Waitangi Fisheries Commission assets is still a major issue.

The Government has given riding instructions to get a workable deal this year. But the powerful South Island Ngai Tahu tribe does not favour a plan to form a co-operative to manage the assets.

Hall is closely aligned with Sir Graham Latimer, head of the forestry trust, which has invested a large amount of money into her volcanic interior claim.

Her influence at political level concerns those who operate on the other side.

Hall has worked with Attorney-General Margaret Wilson on trust issues, and is closely allied to Mana Motuhake's Sandra Lee.

The trust's secretary, Karen Wattereus, is godmother to kidnapped baby Kahu.

A review team headed by Hall team recommended using the cash-rich forestry trust to prop up the cash-strapped tribunal.

But this did not go ahead.

Yesterday powerful figures from Maoridom - antagonists and colleagues alike - united to support Hall and Durie.

Sir Tipene O'Regan said he found the idea of abducting a baby "appalling".

Sir Graham Latimer did not think the abduction was racially motivated. He, too, had heard of threats against Maori, but he would not elaborate.

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