A report by the Māori Land Court has found thousands of iwi members did not get a say in the sale of iwi land at Shelly Bay in Wellington due to failings of the iwi membership system.
A group of Taranaki Whānui iwi members, Mau Whenua, complained about the vote process which resulted in the sale of iwi land by the Port Nicholson Block Settlement Trust (PNBST) to property developer Ian Cassels.
Sir Wira Gardiner was appointed independent reviewer by the Māori Land Court and found that the PNBST iwi membership register was a "mess".
He found that 2752 people had their application to become a registered iwi member declined, many of them without a clear reason as to why.
Sir Wira said this should have been "a matter of some considerable concern to the trustees, both past and present".
Another 9139 iwi members were listed as "gone no address", which Sir Wira said was "a large number of 'lost' potential voters".
However, Sir Wira commended PNBST on steps they had taken in the last year to remedy their iwi membership systems, including hiring two data entry staff and beginning to update the database from the 8825 paper whakapapa forms.
Mau Whenua spokesperson Hirini Jenkins-Mepham said he was "delighted" by the findings, which the group had been calling on PNBST to address since 2016.
He said they were previously aware of 5000 members not being on the iwi register, so were shocked by the report which found over 10,000 unregistered members.
"The numbers that we were told in the beginning, back in 2016, are far different from what was actually discovered in the research by Sir Wira and we were quite astonished by the sheer volume of it.
"We have to be fair and recognise that people die and people move on without leaving their addresses behind and that makes life difficult but however, the fact is many, many people who came to us back when we were looking to vote on Shelly Bay sale or not, were unable to vote," Jenkins-Mepham said.
"While they whakapapa back to the original people who owned the land in the first place, they weren't registered anymore, they were lost."
Former chair of the Port Nicholson Settlement Trust Neville Baker said he accepted the findings.
"I'm not sure if you would call it a 'mess' but I understand that all registers need to be updated and they need to be accurate and I think from that point of view Wira Gardiner's report is probably a very good reminder of the fact the register needs to be put in place properly."
He said that it was very difficult to track and find descendants when they changed addresses.
Baker retired as Trust chair two years ago.
The Port Nicholson Settlement Trust chair, John Coffey, has been contacted for comment.