The Supreme Court has repeatedly questioned why it is hearing a hapu's claim to a North Island riverbed.
Judges have asked why the case brought by Pouakani is not instead being considered by the Waitangi Tribunal.
Pouakani is seeking ownership of a portion of the Waikato River that includes three state-owned hydro dams.
In court, the lawyer heading the case for the hapu was asked why the question of ownership has not been sorted out through a mixture of Waitangi Tribunal hearings and direct negotiations with the Crown.
Ian Millard QC responded by saying that, after the Tribunal parked the issue, tribal leaders' talks with the Crown went in fits and starts.
Referring to the Waikato River Authority, run jointly by the Crown and iwi, he said management of the Waikato River has been addressed but the issue of ownership has been abandoned.
Mr Millard said the Crown chooses who to deal with and "if the Crown doesn't want you, you're out in the cold".
The case continues.