Kaumatua should be allowed to eat small amounts of kereru at special occasions, says former Maori Party co-leader Dame Tariana Turia.
The Department of Conservation is looking into how the protected wood pigeon came to be served at a hui of iwi leaders and government ministers.
Dame Tariana was one of three ministers who attended the hui at an Ohakune marae in 2013 where the bird was served though she was not at the dinner itself.
She told Morning Report that while she believes depleted resources such as kereru should be left alone, she was not opposed to allowing elders access to certain foods that were traditionally part of their diet.
"It does have to be a consideration when we are looking at these issues that on certain occasions, special occasions, that there should be the opportunity for them to have a very small take."
She would not be surprised if the old people would eat kereru as it was something that was part of the culture for generations, and had been part of their lives.
"The fact that it's now become a depleted resource is not the fault of tangata whenua, it is the fact that most of our resources have been destroyed.
"It's not unusual to accept that many of our bird species that were part of cultural take have been depleted hugely as well."
She said consideration should be given, in special circumstances, for elders to be able to continue what has been a practice for them.
Waikato iwi leader Tom Roa, who attended the 2013 meeting, said he had viewed it as an honour that kereru was served.
"This little marae, way in the back blocks of Ohakune, hosting the iwi chiefs from throughout the motu, must have gone to some considerable trouble to put that in front of us, and my immediate thought was, this is special. I mihi to the people of Maungarongo marae."
Regarding the protected species status of the bird, Mr Roa said the protectors of the forest in that area were the people of the marae.
"I don't believe that if there was a danger to the numbers of birds, that they would have put it on the table ... they are the kaitiaki of their forests."
Maungarongo marae in Ohakune has confirmed the protected wood pigeons were eaten at the 2013 event, attended by ministers Amy Adams, Nathan Guy as well as Dame Tariana.
A spokesperson for the marae in Ohakune said between three and five birds had been handed to them by DoC.
Marae spokesperson Che Wilson said the feathers were used for weaving, while the bodies were saved for a special occasion.
He said the kereru were mixed with chicken and miromiro berries and served as part of the hakari (feast).
Mr Wilson told Morning Report he was not aware at the time that it was not permitted to eat the bird.
The Wildlife Act allows DoC to authorise the take of protected species for purposes including cultural and traditional uses.
The department says dead kereru can be used for cultural purposes such as cloak weaving and it authorises the transfer of dozens of birds to local iwi each year.
But a spokesman said it was not aware of any application to use dead kereru for food, which it opposed on food safety grounds.
The other two ministers who were at the hui are adamant they were not served the kereru and Dame Tariana doubts they ate any of it.
"Generally in hui of that nature food is set out in bowls and you help yourself. There wouldn't have been sufficient for it to have gone to everybody."
There were 200 people at the hui during the day, she said.
Last month, Northland leader Raniera Sonny Tau was caught with five kereru as he was returning from Invercargill to Northland. He has since taken a group of supporters back to the local marae in Riverton, where he apologised for his actions.