Far North mayor John Carter should have consulted Māori before signing the district up to a billion-dollar investment offer by a Chinese company, the leader of a Far North iwi says.
The mayor has signed a memorandum of intent with Tus Holdings, the business arm of a Beijing university, to explore investment opportunities in the Far North.
The Far North District Council narrowly approved the memorandum, by five votes to four.
The company has offered to invest up to $1 billion in the Far North over five years, in projects including geothermal development, tourism and rest-home care.
Te Rarawa chairman Haami Piripi said the first he heard of the deal was from the media, and he was wondering if the mayor had lost his phone number.
Mr Piripi said Te Rarawa had no objection to Chinese investment, as long as it was in step with the government's economic development plan for the north, but the council should be involving iwi in such agreements right from the start.
"It's [similar to] that old colonial view of public administration where Māori people are just peripherally involved, as opposed to fully participating.
"While we continue with a paradigm of an equity like that, we'll never get very far."
He said iwi already had business connections with China, and he would have expected the mayor to have involved iwi before signing the memorandum.
Far North deputy mayor Tania McInnes said the region needed investment, but she was also concerned the mayor rushed into signing without consulting councillors and local iwi.
"I mean on the one side of the coin there's real opportunity there, and then on the other side of the coin we've got to be, you know, really recognise the Far North Northlanders and ensure we do our utmost to protect the very reason that we live here and that it's home."
Ms McInnes said now the deal was signed, the council should take a more careful approach and work closely with its Treaty of Waitangi partners in considering Tus Holdings' investment proposals.
Te Rarawa is Kaitaia-based and settled its Treaty claim last year for $27 million, the return of about 10,000 hectares of land, and co-governance over Department of Conservation land and 90 Mile Beach.
Mr Carter was unavailable for comment.