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Karitane kaumatua are distancing themselves from Kati Huirapa runanga's pursuit of a formal relationship with Orokonui Ecosanctuary.
The Otago Natural History Trust, which runs the ecosanctuary, will next month seek its members' views on including three extra seats on its six-person board to enable stakeholders such as the runanga to be represented.
Until now, there has always been a runanga representative on the board, but not a dedicated seat.
However, former trust chairman and ecosanctuary founder Dr Ralph Allen has opposed the move, saying it is undemocratic.
Puketeraki Kaumatua Council spokesman David Ellison, Kati Huirapa upoko, said the council wanted to distance itself from the runanga executive's decision and had written a letter to the editor of the Otago Daily Times stating its concerns.
"We feel there is enough mana in our relationship with Orokonui without these political moves," Mr Ellison said in an interview.
Any change to the rules governing Orokonui's board would be to the detriment of the kaumatua's [elders'] relationship with the ecosanctuary and the public.
The council's responsibility was to the mana of the marae and the people who were part of it, he said.
"We would be extremely disappointed that people might draw the wrong conclusions and we do not want to alienate our friends," Mr Ellison said.
Runanga chairman Matapura Ellison said when contacted he could not comment until he had time to consider the council's concerns.
Dr Allen said it was increasingly clear the threat of withdrawal of runanga support for Orokonui came from a small and not necessarily representative group from Puketeraki.
He was appreciative of Mr Ellison and the kaumatua council's unconditional support for the ecosanctuary's aims.
"I look forward to a renewal of the cordial relationship Orokonui had enjoyed with Puketeraki until this issue arose."
Trust chairman Neville Peat said he would discuss Mr Ellison and the council's position with the board's trustees.