The Maori Council has scored a win against the Crown over who should control the Maori Wardens.
The Waitangi Tribunal has found the Crown has weakened the authority of the volunteers by interfering in how they are run and breached the Treaty of Waitangi.
It has concluded Te Puni Kokiri (the Ministry of Maori Development) has undermined the law governing the wardens.
Under the Maori Community Development Act 1962, the Maori Council has the power to control Watene Maori (wardens), whose mahi ranges from neighbourhood patrols to marshalling at tangihanga and big events.
The Waitangi Tribunal heard a claim in March, after the council took action against the Government's Maori Wardens Project, which provided direct funding to the wardens and caused confusion about who should issue their warrants.
The report said: "We have found that the Maori Wardens Project was a laudable attempt to provide resources and training for wardens, but that since early 2011 the project has been run without any Maori community oversight. That is clearly inconsistent with the Treaty and has prejudiced the claimants."
The tribunal said the volunteers had played a limited role without their accreditation; it did not know for sure how many Maori Wardens did not have up-to-date warrants, but accepted it was a large number.
In Wellington, no wardens had been appointed or reappointed since 2012.
Members of the hearing said the lack of accreditation had clearly had a significant and prejudicial impact on the wardens and on the Maori communities they serve.
Since evidence was presented in March, the Maori Council and the Crown had developed some understanding between each other.
The report said both parties now agreed Maori should control their own institutions, and recommended the Crown fully involve the Maori Council in the Maori Warden Project and urgently sort out a joint system to issue warrants.
The Waitangi Tribunal said its Maori Wardens report was the first set of findings to give an extensive opinion on the link between the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Treaty of Waitangi.
Its said the Maori Community Development Act was the only statute in New Zealand that recognised that Maori have a general right to self-government.
The Crown has also been faulted for going ahead with a review of the act last year. The tribunal has found the Crown breached the Treaty of Waitangi, saying any review and reform should be Maori-led.
Under resourcing highlighted
Peter Walden, who has devoted almost 50 years to the volunteers' network in the Waiariki district, said the Maori Council abdicated its responsibility to the wardens in 1967 because the council began to fail to function properly.
Speaking as past president of the Maori Wardens Association, he said the council "hasn't been very responsible". But he agreed with the tribunal's recommendation that the Crown and the council should work together on how Maori Wardens are resourced, with input from the volunteers.
However, the report does not blame the council for its performance: "Systemic failures have occurred because the District Maori Councils are under-resourced and hence have no administrative capacity, and some districts have no District Maori Councils at all", it said.
"The Crown is at fault in Treaty terms for allowing this systemic dysfunction to continue. At the very least, Te Puni Kokiri ought to have funded a review of the warranting system in partnership with the New Zealand Maori Council to identify the issues and develop solutions".
The Maori Council said it was sad its members had to go through a legal process to show the Crown was disregarding its own legislation.
Owen Lloyd, the head of Tairawhiti District Maori Council, said it was clear District Maori Councils had oversight and management of the wardens.
"With Te Puni Kokiri and the minister [of Maori Affairs] interfering and taking that away from us has just undermined the whole Act [Maori Community Development Act] and the spirit of that Act."
He said Maori should have the right to police their own communities.
The Crown is expected to respond the Waitangi Tribunal report today.