The Ngāpuhi tribal council is standing by its man, Sonny Tau, despite the leader stepping down from the chair of the iwi's treaty negotiation board.
Mr Tau is being investigated by the Department of Conservation after he was caught with five dead native pigeons as he was about to leave Invercargill.
Although Ngāi Tahu's Waihopai Rūnaka chair, Michael Skerret, is demanding an apology and Maori MPs are calling for Mr Tau to step down from the other positions he holds, the Ngāpuhi iwi board put out a statement today reiterating that he's still the chairman.
It said: "At the meeting recent issues surrounding a Department of Conservation investigation involving the Chairman were discussed.
The board resolved:
- It is very disappointed with the actions of the Chairman
- It does not condone his actions.
- It does not condone the taking of kererū.
- The concept of Kaitiakitanga is a sacred obligation
- It is committed to the environmental safeguard of taonga tuku iho.
It said it acknowledged the leadership shown by its chairman over the past 15 years in taking the Runanga to the position where it is now.
Sonny Tau stood down as chair of the Tuhoronuku Independent Mandated Authority yesterday and the authority said it was "business as usual" for Ngāpuhi's Treaty negotiators.
But not everyone sees it that way.
Customary practices need clarifying
Labour MP for Tāmaki Makaurau, Peeni Henare, who is also a Ngāpuhi descendant, said Ngāpuhi and Ngāi Tahu should lead a national debate on the issue of balancing the rights and customs of tāngata whenua with their role as kaitiaki, or guardians, of the environment, including the treatment of kererū.
"There are practices around other things and those are the customary harvest of seafood and kaimoana and that sort of stuff, so there's a clear compromise there between our tikanga and the law itself and an ability as kaitiaki to protect our taonga," he said.
He said there was huge merit in the two tribes leading a conference on Māori practices and New Zealand's indigenous species.
"We know that kererū is an endangered species and I'm not saying that it's just the kererū we need to look at, whether or not there's customary harvest rights, but I think a broader discussion about these types of issues and the tikanga that comes with it [is required]. Because I dare say that a heck of a lot of people don't know that there's a tikanga associated with it."
He said the need to balance tikanga and kaitiakitanga was a wider tribal issue.
"I do think perhaps an apology is in order, but also some discussion around actual tikanga practices around our indigenous species and a whole host of other things. It needs to be discussed in the appropriate forum and Ngāpuhi and Ngāi Tahu would be a good vehicle to do that."
Peeni Henare said Sonny Tau's actions went beyond Māori acting as kaitiaki, as he took the birds when he was in another tribe's rohe (district) and the holistic aspect of customary rights needed to be re-examined.
"There is definitely the whole holistic customary rights issue that I think all tribes need to be involved in a discussion about," he said.
"But yes, there has clearly been a transgression of Ngāpuhi stepping out of its boundaries and out of its realm and that's in a purely physical sense because one could also argue that the whakapapa links between Ngāpuhi and Ngāi Tahu are sound enough to allow us to do that.
"So there needs to be a clear forum for us all to lay these cards out on the table to thrash it out and look for a positive way forward."
Mr Henare said he hoped people could learn from the controversy.
And while fallout from the pigeon incident continues, Sonny Tau's role as chairman of Ngāpuhi is being eyed up by the likes of former MP Tau Henare.
Mr Henare, who's affiliated with Ngāpuhi, tweeted he wants to be a contender if the position ever became available.
Dear Ngapuhi. If the Chair has stood down and there is an election I would consider it an honour to stand for the position. #serious— West Side Tory (@tauhenare) June 30, 2015
Tau Henare wouldn't elaborate on his tweet and declined to make any further comment to Te Manu Korihi.