A Taranaki iwi has signalled its interest in thousands of hectares of Department of Conservation (DOC) land at a Treaty settlement hui at Te Upoko o te Whenua marae.
Ngāti Maru lost virtually all of its 220,000 hectare territory in the late 1800s to illegal confiscation and dubious land deals.
The iwi's traditional rohe extends from the eastern side of the Taranaki maunga up to the source of the Waitara river, across to the Heao stream, down to the Whanganui river and back across the Matemateaonga ranges to Stratford.
The chairman of Te Runanga o Ngāti Maru Holden Hohaia said half the iwi's land was taken during the raupatu - although the iwi did not take up arms against the Crown - and the rest at the point of a pen.
"It actually pitted sellers against non-sellers and created a climate of fear. I mean there was quite a notable murder of a non-seller (Ngāti Maru chief Ihakara Rangawhenua) by a seller which basically decimated our people and created this climate of fear inside of our rohe to the point we just took off out of there."
Today 80,000 hectares of that land is in DOC hands.
"Now DOC has the only substantial block of land available that's in Crown ownership.
"A couple of small farms and a forest, kei te pai tera, but for the vast tract of DOC land there needs to be a different way that we see that land in terms of our kaitiakitanga, our mana kaiwhaka haere, and our mana over that land."
Mr Hohaia said that could involve full commercial rights over some tracts of land, or co-management or co-governance arrangements.
Ngāti Maru's lead negotiator Anaru Marshall said welcoming the Office of Treaty Settlements (OTS) delegation onto Te Upoko o te Whenua marae was a significant step.
"Today is really about bringing the Crown onto our papa kāinga and getting them to know who we are as a people.
"It's a long overdue visit. The original Treaty of Waitangi claim was lodged 27 years ago and here we are today carrying on with that."
The OTS delegation toured eight sites of significance to the iwi today.
Mr Marshall said sites, such as Pohohitoa, offered a sense of the pain the iwi felt.
"So Pohohitoa was an urupa that a road was put through. Some of our tūpāpaku (bodies of the deceased) were exhumed and by all accounts they were put on display in the council offices and it's something we really need to address and talk to the Crown about that as well."
Crown negotiator David Tapsell said he was not ruling out a return of land to Ngāti Maru.
"In negotiations you know there's a whole lot of things on the table. Land's one of them, cash is another and there are various other instruments that can be useful for the iwi and the Crown at the end of a settlement process.
"So land is certainly on the table, it's always just a question of how much and where it is and things like that."
Te Upoko o te Whenua marae trustee Tamzyn-Rose Pue said the OTS visit marked a new beginning for the iwi.
"It is the start of Ngāti Maru welcoming, welcoming engagement from the Crown. See there is a difference between going into engage with the Crown and actually welcoming it and we stand here with open arms, hearts wide open or otherwise we would not have done karakia or a full pōwhiri for the Crown."
Mr Tapsell said the OTS team would meet with iwi members again on Thursday and hoped to have an agreement in principle by August next year.