Tuhoe's lead negotiator is optimistic the iwi could sign a settlement including self-government of Te Urewera National Park and Lake Waikaremoana as early as next year.
Tamati Kruger says Tuhoe has never been closer to reaching a favourable settlement - but it would continue to push for its desire to have maximum autonomy if expectations were not met. Among other conditions, the iwi wanted to self-govern the area stretching from Opotiki to Putere on the Wairoa side, and the edge of Taupo and Rotorua on the other side.
Mr Kruger believed Tuhoe's expectations were realistic - something the office of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson would not be drawn to comment on yesterday.
The iwi had already proven it could self-govern, and was "inter-dependent" before Parliament was established, Mr Kruger said.
"That was our state before the Treaty of Waitangi and we prospered in that state. It has always been a realistic proposition."
Mr Kruger said Tuhoe's rights had been "grievously eroded" under the Crown but the iwi now wanted to build a positive relationship, "so we can mark the benefits for Tuhoe within its tribal area".
In July, relationships improved with the signing of a new "political compact" with the Government at Ruatahuna - an agreement to "sweeten" the relationship with the Crown.
"We are very hopeful and we have not been this close for all of the time we've been negotiating with the Crown - and we've been negotiating with the Crown since 1890. There are certainly hundreds of examples from around the world and, in our negotiations, we came to the conclusion that New Zealand is very far behind that concept."
If Tuhoe's desired settlement was signed, the self-governance process would slowly evolve over a period of decades. "It is not as if it has to be done in a year ... it's over 40 years."
There were also misconceptions over what self-government meant.
"When people hear self-government, they interpret that as separatism, racism or apartheid, which really comes down to poor education, in my view."
The iwi has ruled out building casinos or hotels - instead it would invest in infrastructure for agriculture, forestry and tourism - and there would be no changes in access to the area.
"The Crown continues to consider its position, and hopefully we will arrive at a decision next year. We all know then if it's a bridge too far for this Government or a new government. If so, then Tuhoe will keep doing what it's been doing for the last 150 years - we will wait it out."
Up until 2017, the Crown pays a lease for the Lake Waikaremoana lake bed and owns all the water. It owns the bed and water of Waikareiti.
At the time of July's signing, Mr Finlayson said the Government would start to address the iwi's concerns about a lack of provision for social services, such as access to medical services and housing. But he conceded there would be a job to do in convincing any government to return Te Urewera.
Yesterday, a spokesman for Mr Finlayson said "it would be great" if a settlement could be reached next year, but added that nothing had essentially changed in the Government's position.
"Everyone has agreed that the issues around Te Urewera will be a component in any settlement, but how that's done is still something that's subject to the ongoing negotiation process.
"We've made our expectations clear, Tuhoe have made their expectations clear and we continue to negotiate."
- additional reporting, APNZ