24 Jul 2017

Ngāpuhi leader feels 'betrayed' by Prime Minister

6:11 pm on 24 July 2017

Ngāpuhi leader Pita Tipene has offered to stand aside from the Ngāpuhi treaty settlement process in the hope it will progress the iwi's claim, after the government pulled out of that process last month.

Pita Tipene, a Ngati Hine leader, is concerned about hapu members from overseas, who are out of the loop, being nominated for seats.

Pita Tipene Photo: RNZ

Mr Tipene, who is also co-leader of Te Kotahitanga, has challenged Tūhoronuku's leadership to do the same and stand aside.

Last month, the government pulled out of the Ngāpuhi treaty settlement process leaving it up to two opposing groups to sort out.

Mr Tipene said he had been betrayed by the Prime Minister following Bill English's announcement that the government would "pull back" from the negotiations.

"I feel betrayed, I personally feel betrayed because after being led down a path where we thought we would work hard with the Tūhoronuku team, compromise and find a way forward only to have at the eleventh hour to have the rug pulled out by the Prime Minister."

Mr English said the two opposing groups, Tūhoronuku and Te Kotahitanga, needed to decide who would represent the iwi.

But documents obtained under the Official Information Act show Te Kotahitanga has complied with Crown requests, while the Crown-backed rival group, Tūhoronuku has at times failed to consult, hold iwi meetings or adopt changes.

Mr English had just met with the two groups heading the Ngāpuhi settlement, Tūhoronuku and Te Kotahitanga when the government pulled out of negotiations last month.

Tūhoronuku's Deputy Chairman Sonny Tau supported the move at the time.

"The Prime Minister in our view rightfully pulled his minister out ... to let the leadership of Tūhoronuku and the leadership of Te Kotahitanga, just four people, sort this out."

So what happened?

Ngāpuhi is the country's largest and poorest iwi, since 2014 the iwi's mandate has sat with a group called Tūhoronuku after it satisfied the government it represented Ngāpuhi.

But a large group of hapū called Te Kotahitanga disagreed and filed claims with the Waitangi Tribunal.

It looked into the claims and found Tūhoronuku didn't represent enough of Ngāpuhi.

The Tribunal then recommended the government assist Ngāpuhi to find a unified way forward.

A working group, made up of both groups was appointed and under the guidance of Crown representatives they created a new structure, Maranga Mai.

Mr Tipene believes the initiative went off the rails when Mr Tau started playing a leading role in Tūhoronuku again.

"Te Kotahitanga initially agreed with it in principle and in full, Tūhoronuku agreed with it initially and then Sonny Tau came back onto Tūhoronuku and changed all of that, so when you ask me the question where did it all go wrong? It's when Sonny Tau came back and started playing a leading role in it again," said Mr Tipene.

Raniera Sonny Tau is a significant figure in Ngāpuhi politics and was Tūhoronuku's chairman at the time government signed over the mandate.

Mr Tau made headlines when he was convicted and discharged for hunting kererū, he was later convicted for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice after his son-in-law took the blame for the kererū hunting.

Following the conviction Mr Tau resigned his position on Tūhoronuku's board but recently he's been put back as deputy chair.

He disputes he's as powerful as Mr Tipene makes out.

"I wish I had that influence over the government, it would be great and Ngāpuhi would be settled now - no, no I don't take much stall by that."

In documents provided under the OIA, both Tūhoronuku and Te Kotahitanga agreed to accept Maranga Mai as the new settlement structure. But since Mr Tau's return to Tūhoronuku's leadership that position has changed.

"The Maranga Mai report is a complete litigation of the mandate that Ngāpuhi gave Tūhoronuku in 2014," said Mr Tau.

Mr Tau rejected that his group attended those meetings and agreed to it.

He claims the Crown's representative moved ahead without permission.

"That report, or the report in its final form, was supposed to be socialised with Tūhoronuku which never was the Crown led the roll out of that with iwi and that's where we're furious about the interference that the Crown runs in terms of getting that signed off."

Mr Tipene is now challenging Tūhoronuku's leadership, including Mr Tau, to stand aside and let new leaders take the iwi's treaty claim forward.

Mr Tau reacted to the challenge and said "I guess he (Pita Tipene) has finally realised that they don't have a mandate and it's time to move aside."

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