Treaty talks for Ngapuhi have stalled before they have even started because of internal disagreements over who has the authority to negotiate a settlement.
Two opposing groups, Tūhoronuku and Te Kotahitanga, are working to resolve mandate disagreements.
Prime Minister Bill English met both groups at the weekend and told them until they sort their differences out, the government will wait in the wings.
Ngāpuhi is the biggest and poorest iwi in the country.
The co-chair of the hapū alliance Te Kotahitanga, Pita Tipene, said they were on the cusp of bringing Ngāpuhi together when Mr English stepped in to announce the government was stepping back.
However, the chairman for Tūhoronuku, Hone Sadler, was pleased.
"We are very happy in that the Crown has decided that Ngāpuhi needs to settle its own business. The other good thing about it is that it is allowing tino rangatiratanga," he said.
Three years ago the Crown officially recognised Tūhoronuku as having secured a mandate to negotiate the treaty grievance on behalf of the people of Ngāpuhi.
Soon afterwards, its chairman Sonny Tau was stood down after after being caught with five dead kererū by Department of Conservation staff.
Mr Tau was convicted last year of shooting the protected woodpigeons and attempting to pervert the course of justice by making up a false story for the police.
Then a Waitangi Tribunal Claim found Tūhoronuku was "not fit to settle" the iwi's claim after a number of people took their concerns to the Waitangi Tribunal over the mandate.
Following that, the Crown brought together both Tūhoronuku, which holds the mandate, and Te Kotahitanga to restructure the mandated group.
Their report, Maranga Mai, was rubber stamped by Minister of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Chris Finlayson and for nearly a year the two groups had been working on a pathway forward.
Mr Sadler said Tūhoronuku had never accepted it: "Despite our trying to get our issues into that report, it never saw the light of day."
But Te Kotahitanga spokesperson Pita Tipene disagreed, saying the two groups co-authored the document.
He suspected it was more about a deal between the Māori Party and the government.
"In my mind there is absolutely no doubt that the Prime Minister is now palling up with Sonny Tau and giving him and Tūhoronuku all the power despite us being on the cusp of bringing Ngāpuhi together."
Goverment will step back
Mr English released a statement at the weekend saying: "The government offered to fund a mediator if Ngāpuhi could decide on who that should be and the process to be followed. Otherwise the government will step back from the process so Ngāpuhi can finalise its own decisions about its own representation in the Treaty negotiations."
Labour's Māori campaign director, Willy Jackson, said Mr English's interference with the Ngāpuhi Treaty settlement was unprecedented.
"Now we've got this late interference from the Prime Minister - shocking really and you just got to ask the questions - what is the political involvement from the Maori Party at this time."
However, Mr Sadler said the answer to Mr Jackson's comments was simple; it was all conjecture and he was confident they could find a way forward.
Mr Sadler said the two groups would keep working to reach a joint position on negotiating a mandate before the new government was formed after September's elections.
Māori Development Minister Te Ururoa Flavell declined the invitation to be interviewed, saying he had registered a conflict of interest and delegated his responsibility to deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett.