That nature of the relationship was affirmed by councillors this week, but only after they became embroiled in a lengthy, "petty" debate over how to describe the council’s alliance with iwi this week.
The council voted to expand membership in its mana to mana forum with Otago’s four local Ngai Tahu runanga to all 12 councillors.
It noted updated terms of reference for the forum. But whether there was rightly a "partnership" between the council and iwi became a point of debate.
Council deputy chairman Michael Laws took issue with a staff recommendation that councillors reaffirm their commitment to the council’s "partnership" with iwi, and the Treaty of Waitangi.
The terms of reference for the mana to mana forum rightly made no mention of a partnership, Cr Laws said.
The word the document used, which he preferred, was a "relationship".
There was an important difference between them as any husband or wife would know, he said.
If the council was going to use the term "partnership" it had better define it, he said.
"The ORC doesn’t have a treaty partnership, the Treaty of Waitangi is between the Crown and Maori people, that’s the law.
"There isn’t a separate law that says the Otago Regional Council is a treaty partner. It ain’t, the Crown is. That’s just public law 101."
Cr Hilary Calvert said if none of the councillors wanted to "die in a ditch over putting ‘partnership’ in there" instead the word "relationship" could be used.
Cr Calvert said she was not questioning the significance of the Treaty, nor the relationship with iwi.
But for some people the term "partnership" had a sense that made them uncomfortable, she said.
"For me relationship is a much bigger word."
What followed was a 40-minute debate. At one point, council chairman Andrew Noone told Cr Laws to lower his voice.
Council chief executive Sarah Gardner weighed in on the debate, so did governance, culture and customer general manager Amanda Vercoe.
Mr Noone said the council was working on an improving two-way relationship with iwi partners.
He was disappointed that at the end of a long process the council got picky about one word in a recommendation.
"I struggle. What sort of message does this send when we are actually trying to strengthen the relationship.
"I really think that’s relatively petty in the overall concept of what we are trying to develop here."
Cr Bryan Scott agreed with the term petty and went further to call the debate "grandstanding".
"To me what this whole discussion has been about is some type of erosion of the benchmark of partnership."
Cr Calvert lost her bid to use the term relationship in a 6-4 vote.
The term partnership won favour 7-3.
Crs Alexa Forbes and Michael Deaker sent apologies.