A Ngāpuhi leader says court action against Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson is a possibility if he transfers the troubled Tūhoronuku mandate to another group.
Tūhoronuku, the board the government has agreed to negotiate with on behalf of Ngāpuhi, is split over the Maranga Mai report, recommending changes to put hapū in charge of the settlement process.
Some trustees are asking Mr Finlayson to scrap the Tūhoronuku mandate or transfer it to a hapū-led group, saying it is clear the old guard has no intention of handing over the controls.
Tūhoronuku chairman Hone Sadler said legal action would follow if that happened, but he was hoping it would not come to that.
"What I'm hoping is that the minister won't jump too quick in applying that," he said. "That he'll give us time to do a bit of skirting around to try and get the Maranga Mai report over the line."
Although the minister's deadline for agreement on Maranga Mai expired today, Mr Sadler said he was hopeful Tūhoronuku could resolve the standoff at a meeting on Friday.
Mr Finlayson said he was seeking advice from officials on what to do about the troubled mandate, and he was prepared to give Tūhoronuku a little more time.
"I'm not going to make a decision at midnight tonight and lower the guillotine," he said.
"I just want to see how things play out over the next few days. We are at a very sensitive stage and, frankly, it's been going on a long time but I'm not ready to make any announcements yet."
Mr Finlayson said the positions of those involved were becoming clear and he would see where Tuhoronuku ended up after the board meeting set down for Friday.
After the Waitangi Tribunal described Tūhoronuku as an empty vessel that undermined the authority of hapū, the board and its opponents had set up a hapū engagement process - which has worked for seven months to fix the mandate.
Mr Sadler said there were still several sticking points, including the case for urban Ngāpuhi and kaumātua and kuia to have seats on the new negotiating body.
"The settlement is for all Ngāpuhi and 80 percent of Ngāpuhi live in cities'," Mr Sadler said.
"The argument that they can be represented through their hapū here at home falls down when a lot of them don't even know which hapū they came from.
"And our kaumātua and kuia don't go to [mandate] hui these days because they're frightened to - they get shouted down."
Mr Sadler said there was also concern about the lack of detail in the Maranga Mai report about who would be members of a small proposed board to be called Te Hononga Iti.
Tūhoronuku trustee and lawyer Moana Tuwhare said those matters had been thrashed out and largely resolved over seven months of intense debate by Ngāpuhi at hui and workshops.
Tūhoronuku hardliners including its founder, Sonny Tau, and Mr Sadler were procrastinating in a bid to cling to power, he said, but Mr Sadler denied that.
"These are not minor issues that can be left to be sorted out in detail later on," Mr Sadler said.
The Tūhoronuku chair said there was also disagreement about the make-up of the transition group that would create the new mandated structure, and that was another barrier to adopting Maranga Mai in time for today's deadline, as the minister wanted.
Moana Tuwhare, who worked intensively in the seven-month hapū engagement process, moved that she and trustees Erin Shanks and Bill Joyce should represent the board on the transition group.
Mr Sadler said he would prefer to see them step down in favour of others who had not been involved like Henry Toia and Mary-Anne Baker.
But he said he would also like to see Mr Tau on the transition group because of his record of working for the iwi.
Hapū alliance Te Kotahitanga co-chair Pita Tipene said Mr Tau's inclusion on any board associated with the new mandate structure would be a dealbreaker for most people.
"I don't think it would be a very smart move to put Sonny on any entity - certainly while he's suspended from his role as chair of the Ngāpuhi runanga," Mr Tipene said.
Mr Tau was convicted last month over killing kereru and conspiring to pervert the course of justice. Attempts by some Ngāpuhi runanga and Tūhoronuku trustees to hold Mr Tau to account over reportedly misleading them on his role in the kereru-hunting incident have failed to gain traction - with Tūhoronuku refusing even to discuss it.
The Ngāpuhi mandate process began eight years ago and has so far cost the government about $4 million.