Tribunal hearings at risk

A funding bombshell has been dropped on the Waitangi Tribunal.

The Crown Forestry Rental Trust says it's unable to commit to pay for the bulk of an inquiry into nearly 400 Treaty claims in Northland.

For the past 20 years, the trust has helped claimants to prepare, present and negotiate claims that involve or could include Crown forest lands.

The Waitangi Tribunal is highly critical of the trust's last-minute decision not to approve the much-needed money, which will help pay for two months of hearings that are scheduled to start in mid-March.

In a stern memo, presiding Tribunal judge Craig Coxhead said the decision has come late and created uncertainty for claimants - and they haven't been given any explanation.

However, the Crown Forestry Rental Trust said it still might offer funding and trustees will decide on 12 February.

The Tribunal said the Te Paparahi o Te Raki regional inquiry is unlike any other it has carried out.

About 390 claims have been brought largely by Ngapuhi, Ngati Whatua, Ngati Wai, Ngati Hine, Patuharakeke, Ngati Rehua and Ngati Manuhiri.

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