Two non-Maori candidates have been short-listed for the position of Ngati Porou chief executive, sparking dissent within the tribe.
The selection process for a new chief executive was done through recruiting company Sheffield and produced five final candidates, three from Ngati Porou and two non-Maori.
Just the fact there is a candidate from outside Ngati Porou has been too much for Te Aitanga a Hauiti, who consider themselves an independent tribe but are closely affiliated with Ngati Porou through tradition and today are part of the corporate body, Te Runanganui O Ngati Porou (TRONP).
They reacted by withdrawing their support for the annual Pa Wars, a significant event on the tribal calendar, which was due to be held at Uawa.
"We would like to express our distaste that Te Runanganui O Ngati Porou are even considering . . . a CEO who is not of Ngati Porou descent, let alone Maori, despite interviewing some quality Ngati Porou applicants," they said in a statement.
"Te Aitanga a Hauiti feel strongly that we cannot support TRONP in this matter and therefore we withdraw our support and will not host Pa Wars in Uawa in 2013."
The political wars could not stop the Pa Wars, however, and Te Whanau a Ruataupare hosted the games at Tokomaru Bay.
Dr Wayne Ngata, a Maori researcher at Massey University based in Tolaga Bay, said it was important the tribe stuck to its own people.
"You might refer to it as another form of colonisation, we are colonising ourselves," he said. "You must make sure you are growing your own. I think we go backwards if we seek outsiders."
But the exclusion of candidates based on race could breach the Human Rights Act.
"It is unlikely that one could mount an argument for a position to exclude applicants that are non-Maori," said Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres. "Even if you are an ethnic organisation you cannot discriminate on ethnicity."
While a job description may not discriminate on racial background, it may require an applicant to have a specific cultural background to be the ideal candidate.
"You have to advertise for skills not ethnicity. These can be knowledge, understanding and experience. But there is probably not a single one that wouldn't remain open to someone who wasn't of any ethnicity," said de Bres.
The Ngati Porou chief executive job description specifies that knowledge of Te Reo Maori "is desirable" as is "a strong cultural empathy for tribal structure and politics".
"Special knowledge of the tikanga or kaupapa of a particular iwi could be a genuine occupational requirement that serves to limit applicants to those within the iwi," said public law expert, Nicholai Anderson.
The process of selecting the next CEO still has a long way to go, said TRONP chairman, Dr Apirana Mahuika.
"Our concept of commerce is not necessarily that of corporate societies up and down the country," he said.
"One of the skills is they have to be somebody who understands who were are as a people."
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