Incalculable delays with Treaty settlements have seen the public grow weary as successive governments proclaim different goals for a settlement deadline.

In December, Prime Minister John Key announced it would take until about 2017 to finalise all settlements, instead of the 2014 goal his government had been working towards.

But numerous settlements have already been wrapped up.

As of last week, 68 Treaty settlements had been completed - 42 of them since 2009 after National returned to power. According to the Office of Treaty Settlements, about 55 claims are outstanding.


The Government has pledged its commitment to getting settlements finalised as quickly as possible and about $1.5 billion has been paid out so far, as well as Crown assets returned or offered back to iwi under first right of refusal.

A previous National government attempted to place a $1 billion fiscal cap on all settlements in 1994, however this was dropped after universal opposition from Maori.

On the surface progress looks good, and peaceful Waitangi Day celebrations this year set an air of renewed positivity.

But the biggest settlement still lies ahead.

Internal iwidivision surrounding the upcoming settlement process for New Zealand's largest tribal grouping, Ngapuhi, has seen Mr Key take the unusual step of offering the group a cash incentive to resolve their differences and settle this year.

Critics claim it's just an attempt by Mr Key to sweeten the ticket for voters ahead of this year's election, and it's better if the process is done properly and not rushed through.

The Waitangi Tribunal has come a long way since its beginnings in the 1970s.

Set up to make recommendations for settling claims by Maori relating to Treaty breaches by the Crown, it is without international parallel.


Although the initial pace of settlements was sluggish, it ramped up in 2007 when Labour's deputy prime minister Michael Cullen took over Treaty negotiations, requiring all historical claims to be registered by September 2008.

But National says it too has made good progress with settling Treaty grievances.

In a Waitangi Day statement Minister for Treaty Negotiations Chris Finlayson said the completion of all settlements was now an "achievable goal".

"The settlements will end not because Maori and the public have tired of them, but because they are finished."

Processing some of the largest settlements first, such as $170 million each for for Ngai Tahu and Tainui in the 1990s, and a further $170 million for Tuhoe last year, has cleared the path to focus on smaller claims.

Victoria University School of Maori Studies associate professor Peter Adds says politicians were right to initially focus on the bigger settlements.

Addressing historical Treaty claims is "a long, slow process", he says.

"I don't think either the Office of Treaty Settlements or the Waitangi Tribunal are properly resourced to deal with them quickly. Even an aspirational 2020 date to get them all mopped up is pretty unlikely."

One of the biggest factors delaying settlements is division within iwi as factions debate which representatives are best placed to spearhead settlement processes.

Ngapuhi, in Northland, has been through a five-year process to agree on an organisation which can best represent the interests of its 115,000 members.

The iwi is asking for a settlement of about $500 million, which Mr Finlayson has indicated is unlikely.

On February 14, the Government formally recognised runanga-based organisation Tuhoronuku as the entity it will negotiate with on behalf of the iwi, however Tuhoronuku's mandate has been opposed by some hapu.

The infighting has prompted Labour MP and Ngapuhi Shane Jones to call on the iwi to put aside its differences and move towards a settlement for the betterment of its people.

Professor Adds says if National has the "political willpower" to get a settlement achieved this year, with Mr Key personally involved, it's possible they will get their way.

Although he hopes Ngapuhi receive the redress they deserve, a large settlement could prompt protests from other iwi who settled for less and might want a review of their settlement packages.