Waiwhetu Maori are refusing to release "Wellington's waka" from their Lower Hutt museum to be housed in the new wharewaka building on Wellington's waterfront.
The $12.5 million wharewaka is being built to showcase Maori waka and culture in Wellington.
During the seven years of planning for the building, the waka known as Te Raukura and "Wellington's waka" has been heralded as the main exhibit.
The wharewaka was specifically designed to accommodate the 14.3-metre waka behind a special glass viewing wall.
But infighting between members of Te Atiawa iwi has thrown that into doubt.
At a meeting in Waiwhetu last month, Waiwhetu Maori leader Kara Puketapu told Port Nicholson Block Treaty Settlement Trust chairman Sir Ngatata Love that no agreement existed for the waka to be moved from Te Maori Museum in Waiwhetu to the new wharewaka.
Dr Puketapu is a former secretary of Maori Affairs and the chief executive of the runanga at Waiwhetu.
It is understood Dr Puketapu told a high-powered delegation – including former governor-general Sir Paul Reeves and former Labour MP Mahara Okeroa – the waka would not be allowed back to Wellington because of the lack of communication over the matter between himself and the Wharewaka o Poneke Charitable Trust, which was established to administer the wharewaka.
Sir Ngata chairs both the settlement and wharewaka trusts.
The dispute between the settlement trust and Dr Puketapu is long-running. Dr Puketapu resigned from the trust in 2008 over a disagreement about compensation for Waiwhetu land confiscated by the Crown in the 1940s.
Dr Puketapu believes the Port Nicholson Block 2008 Treaty settlement did not adequately address the Waiwhetu compensation issue in the $25m cash and property deal. The return of the waka has now become caught up in the continuing inter-iwi dispute.
Dr Puketapu declined to comment on the latest dispute.
The waka was carved by Waiwhetu-based Rangi Hetet and six helpers in 1989. Mr Hetet is backing Dr Puketapu in his desire to see the waka remain at Te Maori Museum in Waiwhetu.
Asked to comment on the dispute, Sir Ngatata said that it would concern him if people confused the roles of the settlement trust and the Wharewaka o Poneke Charitable Trust.
Dr Puketapu's nephew, Vernon Winitana, believes the waka should go to the Wellington waterfront. A spokesman for Te Atiawa (Wellington), who declined to be named, called on mayor Celia Wade-Brown to intervene and help resolve the dispute.
The spokesman said Wellington City Council had paid about $100,000 for the waka to be carved in the late 1980s. Wellington ratepayers had also paid for rehulling the waka from a totara hull to a kauri hull about seven years ago and paid rent to Waiwhetu Maori to house the waka in Te Maori Museum since then.
"Why would they have paid rent to store the waka if they did not believe they owned it? The former mayor and her officials were in no doubt the waka was owned by Wellington city," the spokesman said.
He said Ms Wade-Brown should simply advise Dr Puketapu of the date the waka would be taken to its new waterfront home.
"The new mayor needs to take a leadership role on this. This silliness has got to stop."
Ms Wade-Brown declined to comment.
Council spokesman Richard MacLean said the council was aware of the situation but had no comment to make at this stage.
The Government has pumped $7m into the wharewaka building, with the remainder coming from the council, the Wellington Tenths Trust, the settlement trust, Wharewaka o Poneke Charitable Trust and Palmerston North Maori Reserve Trust.
When completed early next year, the 1800-square-metre wharewaka will house two ceremonial waka, exhibition and function areas, a cafe and offices.
During next year's Rugby World Cup it will be the venue for powhiri, carvings, cultural performances and interactive history displays.
- The Dominion Post