Prime Minister John Key today said he was hopeful of eventually reaching a Treaty of Waitangi deal with Tuhoe -- just minutes after a speech where he joked about the iwi eating him for dinner.
The Government's relationship with the Maori Party took a hit when Mr Key announced on Monday Tuhoe would not be given Te Urewera National Park as part of a settlement. This was despite the iwi understanding it was on the table.
Mr Key said such a deal was outside the scope of settlements and would be "a very unusual" step for the Government to take.
The move angered the Maori Party and co-leader Tariana Turia said the Government had not acted honourably and chief Tuhoe negotiator Tamati Kruger said Mr Key had "intervened" at the end of an 18-month negotiation process based on worries expressed at last weekend's National Party regional meeting in Masterton, where concerns were raised that the Government was making too many concessions to Maori.
At a tourism event in Auckland today Mr Key joked about enjoying a dinner at a Ngati Porou marae on the East Coast of the North Island this week.
"The good news is that I was having dinner with Ngati Porou as opposed to their neighbouring iwi which is Tuhoe, in which case I would have been dinner, which wouldn't have been quite so attractive."
The Maori Party's Te Ururoa Flavell said the remark was disappointing and Mr Kruger was unhappy with it.
After the speech Mr Key said he thought the iwi would get the joke. His office later reiterated it was a light-hearted remark.
Mr Key said the negotiation with Tuhoe was always going to be complicated and the easier deals were completed first.
"I am hopeful that we can get a successful conclusion to negotiations with Tuhoe...that may take some time," he told reporters.
Mr Key said a 2014 goal of settling all claims was aspirational and he was not prepared to meet that if it came at too high a cost.
"I think it's important the Government is up-front with what it says and that is that why we made the decision. We can't fully vest the national park in the iwi. To do so in my view would be a step too far for most New Zealanders, but would also set a unique precedent that would have to be followed almost certainly in a number of other negotiations we have."
Mr Key disagreed that the decision was made public because of the National Party regional conference.
"The timing was forced upon us for a number of reasons... Tuhoe decided to hold a hui at the end of this week and I thought at that point it was very clear we made it clear to them as to actually what was possible and what wasn't."
He said the idea was considered but there were concerns that it would set a precedent for other iwi.
It was understandable the Maori Party was disappointed as Tuhoe had suffered losing significant lands, but he thought the party would understand the Government's need to balance different demands.