A Southland iwi is demanding a public apology from the head of Ngāpuhi after he was caught trying to take kererū from their rohe.
The Department of Conservation is investigating the rūnanga's chair, Raniera Tau, also known as Sonny, for allegedly trying to smuggle five of the native wood pigeons onto a flight from Invercargill to Northland.
Ngāi Tahu's Waihopai Rūnaka chair Michael Skerrett said iwi locally were very disappointed and angry to learn about the incident, and wanted Mr Tau apologise at the very least.
Kererū are a protected species under the Wildlife Act and anyone caught killing them could face a maximum penalty of a $100,000 fine or imprisonment of two years.
"It was a bit of a shock that such a thing had happened. We're pretty hōhā [fed up] about it and feel like we've been trampled on a little bit," he said.
Mr Skerrett said, as far as he understood, the iwi didn't know the kererū had been taken.
He said the iwi chose not to exercise its customary right to take the kererū because it recognised the species were taonga and also a protected species.
"We believe there is a customary right, but that belongs to the locals, those with ancestral connections, not to anyone else to come from somewhere else and just do that."
Call for Ngāpuhi leader to resign
Questions have been raised about whether Mr Tau should resign if he is found to have broken the law.
Mr Tau yesterday put out a statement saying no charges had been laid but he had made an error of judgement.
"This was a mistake, which I deeply regret. The laws around native bird protection are important and to be respected by all, myself included," he said.
Willow-Jean Prime, whose hapū is at odds with Mr Tau over the Ngāpuhi settlement, said his actions were unworthy of a leader and he should step down.
Mrs Prime said Ngāti Hine people have had a rahui (moratorium) over kererū in their forests since 1996, and taking the birds was a crime in both Pākehā law and tikanga.
She said the iwi's position was that a cultural take could not be justified when the birds were a threatened species.
Traditionally, kererū were hunted for their meat.
A report by the New Zealand Conservation Authority said that it was not unusual for some kaumātua to ask to eat kererū when they were facing death.
It said certain foods were considered essential preparation for the long journey into the next world.
The report said a request from a dying relative for the traditional kai (food) was a serious matter and many whānau felt that refusal would be impossible, but it was not the only instance where native pigeon was eaten.
"For some iwi, some foods such as kererū had a luxury status as special foods provided only for women, needing the maximum nutrition for child-bearing, and for visitors, to enhance the mana of the marae," it states.
Mr Tau is not the first person to be investigated by the Department of Conservation over being found with kererū.
There have been a number of prosecutions over the years, including some in Northland.
In 2010, DOC investigated a group of Norwegian men who featured in a video posing with a pair of dead kererū.
After the five men returned to Norway, DOC contacted the Norwegian authorities, who interviewed the alleged offenders.
DOC then filed charges in a New Zealand court so, if the men ever come back to New Zealand, the charges would be activated.
Meanwhile, in a statement, the Tūhoronuku Independent Mandated Authority's trustees said they were backing Mr Tau.
"The board has great appreciation for the leadership of our chairman, Raniera Tau. He has devoted his life to our people and worked tirelessly to bring Ngāpuhi to this point where we are about to begin Treaty settlement negotiations with the Crown."