30 Sep 2011

Ngapuhi leader says majority have voted to settle claims

7:43 am on 30 September 2011

Ngapuhi leader Sonny Tau has announced that a substantial majority of the iwi has voted in favour of settling its Treaty claims.

Ngapuhi is New Zealand's biggest and poorest tribe with 123,000 members and its settlement is expected to be the largest to date.

Following a series of hui in the past six weeks to decide on a mandate for settlement, Mr Tau announced the results of the voting to a hui in Kaikohe on Thursday.

Mr Tau says 76% of those who voted were in favour of settling the claim by direct negotiation with the Crown and supported the request for a mandate by runanga-led board Tuhoronuku.

A spokesperson for the board says 29,000 Ngapuhi were registered to vote for the mandate and the 76% vote in favour is a very strong endorsement of Tuhoronuku.

But a number of influential hapu, or sub-tribes, want the Ngapuhi's many land claims to be heard first by the Waitangi Tribunal.

A hapu spokesperson, Pita Tipene, says the vote outcome indicates substantial dissent - and the Crown would be unwise to believe that Tuhoronuku has a solid mandate.

Mr Tipene says other iwi such as Ngati Porou achieved up to 90% support and the voter turnout for the Ngapuhi mandate decision was very low at less than 7000.

However, he says the mandate vote does give Ngapuhi a basis for further talks to find unity and a way forward.

Mr Tau and other Ngapuhi leaders will meet the Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson in Wellington on Friday to try to resolve what has become a bitter dispute over how to handle the massive claim.