Dire social issues and an "horrific" housing crisis are sending iwi leadership to councils to hammer out a joint approach to local solutions.
Whanganui Lands Settlement Negotiations Trust chairman Ken Mair said he knew at a personal level the severity of social issues within the Whanganui tribal domain, and that many Māori were suffering the consequences of a major housing crisis.
"I think it's pretty obvious to everybody that the social statistics within our tribal domain are horrific; the housing crisis in this community is horrific."
He said local housing issues had worsened because of high house prices and rental legislation.
Māori were struggling even to rent now because of high rents and landlords offloading their properties due to the legislation changes.
"I'm not challenging the legislation, just pointing out the reality that there is a large component within our iwi Māori and hapū community who are suffering the consequences of a major housing crisis.
"That will have intergenerational effects in regard to poverty, alcohol and drug abuse, and violence."
The trust, which is negotiating a Treaty of Waitangi settlement for the tribes of Whanganui, is seeking formal agreement with Whanganui District Council to deal jointly with the community's social challenges.
Mair said one of the trust's key goals was to improve the health and wellbeing of whānau within the tribal domain, using the values framework Te Tomokanga ki te Matapihi, which was drawn up as part of the Treaty negotiations process.
The Trust is working on the values-based agreement with the council, aiming to include it in settlement legislation.
"One of the failures of the system has been that the local council doesn't have legislative mechanisms to deal with the social issues within their community," Mair said.
"As iwi and hapū we think that a collaborative approach with our local council to deal with the social challenges within our community is the way to go – so that the decisions are not made in Wellington, they're made at the point of contact, and our people make decisions about what's best for our people."
Iwi and hapū intend to ensure they are a "critical component" of all local decision-making involving the social wellbeing of the community and the provision of social services, Mair said.
The trust is exploring the idea of establishing a wellbeing entity, Toitū Te Whānau, to redefine the Crown's role within the tribal domain and ensure that social aspirations are met locally.
The trust and Whanganui mayor Hamish McDouall jointly presented the Toitū Te Whānau concept to more than a dozen Crown agencies at the end of last year.
Mair told Local Democracy Reporting that in any agreements or arrangements with iwi, local authorities and agencies would need to work within a values set agreed with iwi.
"Our expectations are that, consistent with Te Awa Tupua legislation and iwi values, all entities and Crown social providers within our tribal domain will work within our values framework.
"That's why we are striving to get agreement with individual Crown entities and councils, and to legislate the mechanisms to ensure that those entities work within a values-based indigenous lens."
The legal effect of any agreement was still being discussed with Whanganui District Council, Mair said.
McDouall has said the relationship agreement being drafted will go in front of the council before it is signed.