The Waitangi Tribunal has heard evidence that Nga Puhi chiefs rejected a first version of the Treaty of Waitangi, which made it clear that the Maori tribe would be surrendering its sovereignty.
The Treaty of Waitangi was signed on 6 February 1840.
The tribunal on Monday began hearing the grievances at Waitangi of New Zealand's largest iwi. Nga Puhi is the last to seek redress by lodging its claims over Treaty breaches.
The first week of hearings has been dedicated to Nga Puhi evidence about how the tribe came to sign the Treaty and why it has always said it never ceded sovereignty to the Crown.
The Reverend Rima Edwards told the hearing on Monday that missionary Henry Williams and British resident James Busby presented a first version of the Treaty to the chiefs at Waitangi in Northland.
However, he said Nga Puhi leaders rejected it because the Treaty clearly stated they would be signing away their mana, or status.
Mr Edwards said the British came back with a second version in which the word "mana" had been replaced with the word "kawanatanga", or governorship, which was acceptable to the chiefs.
He told the hearing the change of wording was conclusive evidence that his ancestors did not surrender their sovereignty to Queen Victoria.
Meanwhile, the judge chairing the inquiry believes the hearing may be the most challenging in the tribunal's history.
Judge Craig Coxhead says not only does the inquiry involve 600 separate claims, but its over-arching grievances involve the Treaty of Waitangi and the 1835 Declaration of Independence.
The judge says most tribunals have four or five members, but the panel hearing the Ngapuhi claim has six because the issues it is dealing with may have important consequences for New Zealand.
Elder challenges role of missionaries
Earlier, a prominent Nga Puhi elder challenged the role of Anglican missionaries in persuading Maori to sign the Treaty of Waitangi.
Erima Henare has told the meeting on Monday it is absurd to suppose that battle-hardened chiefs in 1840 would have willingly surrendered their autonomy to a foreign power.
Mr Henare says the chiefs took a calculated risk in signing the Treaty of Waitangi, on the advice of missionaries who wrote and translated it, and the Maori document did not require them to cede sovereignty.
"They believed the words that were conveyed to them and they trusted the people that explained its meaning. And in that respect, I ask why isn't the Anglican Church here today?
"They believed what they were told and they signed it on the basis of that understanding in te reo Maori."
The Anglican Church is not represented at the tribunal hearing at Waitangi.
The Bishop of Te Tai Tokerau, Te Kitohi Pikaahu, says he only recently became aware of the hearing dates and they coincided with the general synod of the church in Gisborne.
"The Anglican Church was very much influential in the signing of the Treaty from the point of view of the Treaty itself, from the translation, and also the church's role and the missionaries' role in encouraging Maori to become signatories."
Bishop Pikaahu says he will try to attend the rest of the hearing so the church can be held accountable.
Breakaway bid by hapu
Nga Puhi's largest hapu, or sub-tribe, is staging a breakaway. Waatea News reports Ngati Hine has been holding hui to discuss withdrawing from Te Runanga a Iwi o Ngapuhi.
Ngati Hine representative on the runanga, Pita Paraone, says the hapu wants to manage its own assets and entitlements.
He says the hapu, whose territory includes Whangarei and Kawakawa, wants to use the next census to get some estimate of its size but is being blocked by the parent body.
Mr Paraone says the hapu is prevented from being listed on the census form because Nga Puhi will not give its approval. He says support at the hui for the split has been overwhelming.