Ngāti Maniapoto is specifically focused on its relationship with Ngā Wai o Maniapoto - the waterways of its area - which includes Tongapōrutu River (pictured). Photo: Keith Murray / Flickr
Craig Ashworth, Local Democracy Reporter
New Plymouth councillors say they are the meat in the sandwich as they puzzle how to deal with a dispute between two iwi.
Ngāti Maniapoto wants New Plymouth District Council (NPDC) to join a formal relationship agreement, which would also include the regional councils of Taranaki and Whanganui-Manawatu along with Ruapēhu District Council.
But neighbouring Ngāti Tama is adamant NPDC should not join the agreement, saying Ngāti Maniapoto has wrongly claimed an interest over much of its territory.
Ngāti Maniapoto's area of interest was set in its Treaty of Waitangi settlement, extending from the King Country south to Waipīngao Stream, which reaches the coast at the southern end of the Whitecliffs.
That overlaps some 90 percent of Ngāti Tama's rohe, which stretches north as far as Mōkau River.
It is not uncommon for tribal areas of interest to overlap but such an extensive overlap is unusual and contentious.
Ngāti Maniapoto is specifically focused on its relationship with Ngā Wai o Maniapoto - the waterways of its area. Mōhakatino River, Tongapōrutu River, and part of Waitara River are included.
The Treaty settlement recognised that relationship "is historic, cultural, physical, and spiritual," with the waterways "central to the way of life and the spiritual and physical well-being of Maniapoto, and their tribal identity and culture".
This week, a report to the Strategy and Operations Committee said a relationship agreement with the councils must recognise the mana of Maniapoto and its relationship with Ngā wai o Maniapoto.
The agreement would set out how the iwi and councils would work together under the Resource Management Act (RMA) on resource consents, customary activities, and non-regulatory matters.
But the report said Ngāti Tama had advised it completely opposed the council entering a relationship with Ngāti Maniapoto.
"Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Tama reject any relationship that acknowledges the Waipīngao as the southern boundary of Maniapoto," the iwi wrote.
The council's kaitakawaenga (iwi relationships manager), Aroha Chamberlain, told the committee the dispute was fundamental.
"Ngāti Tama's boundary views stem from their belief that the historical account resulting in the Waipīngao boundary extent for Maniapoto is fundamentally flawed."
Confused councillors were unsure what to do.
Committee chair Bali Haque said it was in a no-win situation, and councillor Harry Duynhoven said it was up to the Crown.
"It leaves us as the meat in the sandwich… Surely this should result in both iwi and council jointly going to government and saying this needs sorting?"
Chamberlain said that was unlikely. In 2020, before the Maniapoto settlement, NPDC had asked Te Arawhiti to broker an agreement between the two iwi but it could not bridge the gap.
"I don't think it's realistic. I think Ngāti Maniapoto consider their rohe is right all the way down to Waipīngao Stream, and they gave historical accounts which the Crown or Te Arawhiti accepted to be true."
Chamberlain said if NPDC did not join the relationship agreement, the iwi's post-settlement entity, Te Nehenehenui, had said it would instead push for a Mana Whakahono ā Rohe - a different kind of iwi participation agreement under the RMA.
The council would have no choice but to agree, she said.
"We have no say in what the Crown recognises and what they don't - but we do have to abide by those statutes whether it be the Local Government Act or the RMA in terms of recognition of iwi and hapū.
"We're caught between a rock and a hard place because we are going to have to develop some sort of agreement… It's about having relationship with iwi that are in our district."
Questioned by councillor Dinnie Moeahu, Chamberlain said both iwi could be invited to enter a single Mana Whakahono agreement.
She also confirmed a memorandum of association with Ngāti Mutunga was the council's only formal relationship agreement with the four Taranaki iwi in the district.
Moeahu called on the expertise of NPDC's iwi committee, Te Huinga Taumatua.
"In light of the complexities of this issue, I think it would be better if we move a procedural motion to lay this on the table and to have Te Huinga Taumatua involved in this discussion."
Visibly relieved councillors unanimously agreed and Te Huinga Taumatua will consider the issue on 30 May.
Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air