An imminent Waitangi Tribunal finding could be the most explosive New Zealand has yet to deal with, making the foreshore and seabed pale in comparison. David Fisher investigates.
We started out on the wrong foot, says Maui Solomon, and it hasn't got too much better.
When Abel Tasman pulled into shore 368 years ago, a conch shell was blown from shore to mark our first encounter. When Tasman ordered a trumpet blown in reply, "he didn't realise he was accepting an invitation to war".
Blood was spilled and that stretch of South Island coast now carries three names - Taitapu Bay, Golden Bay and, from the first encounter, Murderers' Bay.
"It comes from a different set of principles and philosophical cultural viewpoints. From the first time Europeans arrived in New Zealand, there has been a cultural misunderstanding."
As the Waitangi Tribunal prepares to issues its recommendations on the most far-reaching claim yet, an improved ability to talk through our different viewpoints will be critical.
The claim is called Wai 262 - a shorthand for Waitangi Tribunal claim number 262.
The claim was made in 1991 following a pilgrimage to Japan by two elderly Maori women and botanist David Bellamy for kumara that had died out in New Zealand. The kumara samples were among hundreds of plants taken by Japanese researchers in 1969.
It is far-reaching because it claims for Maori all of those things that were here in New Zealand before the Treaty of Waitangi was signed.
And even then it reaches further, seeking control over the use, alteration and development of those.
The claim documents lists, among other species, the kumara, pohutakawa, tuatara, art, language and imagery - but these are only the specifics.
It makes a case for a fundamental change in control over New Zealand's resources, known and unknown in 1840, and how they are used.
The Government will face pressure to turn the tribunal's recommendations into law. It could require anyone wanting to use indigenous flora and fauna to seek Maori permission first and arrange a way of sharing any profits coming from that use.
When the claim was made in 1991, some considered it "out there in wha-wha land", concedes Solomon, lawyer for some of the six original claimants, made up of four iwi from the Far North, Ngati Kahungunu in Hawke's Bay and Ngati Koata, based in Nelson.
Others, however, called the claim "visionary" - and it appears they have been proved right as two decades passed while the United Nations and other international bodies negotiated agreements to protect the rights of indigenous people across the world.
The tribunal advised claimants in March its deliberations were complete and it was preparing the report for publication. All that was left was adding the footnotes and binding the pages.
In the office of Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples, there is a fear a new scrap with the potential to dwarf the foreshore and seabed is about to wash away 18 months of togetherness.
The comparison is fair. Most New Zealanders know nothing of the Wai 262 claim. Solomon says he thought of its potential impact when the foreshore and seabed debate emerged, amid the calls to talkback radio about "bloody Maoris", the hikoi, and the Iwi/Kiwi billboard.
"The fear I have is you get a knee-jerk political reaction."
In all of New Zealand there can be no greater sense of anticipation than in Awanui, in the Far North.
There lives Saana Murray, of Ngati Kuri, the only one of the six original Wai 262 claimants still living. Her health is good, at the moment. Sometimes it is not.
She has 73 grandchildren and 40 great-grandchildren and is known across Northland and beyond. In the 1960s she wrote of her Maori and European heritage - "I love them both, they are my own blood and bones" - and of being haunted by her indigenous roots.
"I've tried and tried, but all in vain/ our lands to reclaim/ how much longer must I bear these pains."
Granddaughter Sheridan Waitai says: "Nana's song hasn't changed."
That message, put bluntly by Murray to the tribunal, was simple: "Maori control over things Maori."
The argument is the deal was done in 1840 when the Treaty of Waitangi was signed. The claim asks for clarity on the second of three principles of the Treaty of Waitangi. The Maori version of the treaty promised "te tino rangatiratanga" over lands, property, treasures and villages.
One definition of rangaitiratanga - from Sir Hugh Kawharu - means "unqualified exercise of Chieftainship".
Murray, speaking for Ngati Kuri, told the tribunal "we place a blanket claim over all our taonga".
Specifically, Murray and whanau spoke of species as diverse as harakeke (flax), kuaka (godwit) and kukupa (wood pigeon).
Currently, the Department of Conservation are guardians of all three. Ngati Kuri need a licence to harvest flax and are banned - like all others - from hunting for kuaka or kukupa.
Murray's son Rapine told the tribunal: "In my view, a law telling us not to harvest the kuaka is a bit like telling the Queen not to drink Earl Grey tea."
Inside the Department of Conservation, there are those who recognise an explosive change in its function should the findings go against the Crown. The department holds sway over much of the non-private land inside the Ngati Kuri area and has control over hunting of wildlife and gathering of seafood.
The tribunal ruling could return to Ngati Kuri a role it had before Europeans arrived. It would also charge the iwi with making its decisions in the best interests of the country.
If the Wai 262 report promotes outrageous headlines, it might pay to check whether there were already changes in the works.
While Wai 262 has ticked along, government departments have pushed forward their own programmes to reflect some of the underlying concern voiced by the original claimants.
For example, at the Ministry of Economic Development staff are working to design a regulatory system around biodiscovery - the new phrase used to describe the search for value in biological material.
It has taken care to design its work around the right of Maori to be involved. It has a somewhat sceptical, but engaged, group of iwi representatives that meet under the cloak of Biodiversity Taumata.
Ministry expert Dr Alice Hume says the work is aimed at developing a new national agency to deal with how natural resources are accessed and how the benefits from those resources are shared.
"New Zealand was missing out on opportunities to utilise its resources - and there might be gaps in protecting those resources," she says.
More regulation, according to Centre for Resource Management Studies director Owen McShane, is bad for New Zealand. He says scientists faced with seeking permission from iwi would, instead, likely leave the country for research opportunities abroad.
"The 20th century was the century of physics. It is well perceived the 21st century is the century of biology."
McShane has taken issue with underlying evidence presented. It describes the Maori connection to the plants and creatures stretching back to Maori creation stories. He said it had shades of anti-Darwinism with references to Tane Mahuta.
"Over 90 per cent of Maori who record their religion on the census say (they are) Christian. The number that say they believe in the animism of pre-European times is almost zero."
Maui Solomon sighs. "This is probably going to be misconstrued as well," he says of Wai 262.
Already considerable effort is going into avoiding any misunderstanding. Te Puni Kokiri - the Ministry for Maori Development - has been running an education programme in "a number of government departments and agencies" for six months to prepare public servants for the decision.
Great, says Solomon. If it's about partnership with the Crown, how come the first the claimants' lawyer hears of it is from a newspaper?
"Maori aren't interested in locking up research or denying access," he says. "We have a stake in this.
"It's not just for Maori. It's for all New Zealand."