The Governor-General has been welcomed onto Te Tii Marae ahead of Waitangi Day, as tensions increase over who will lead the Prime Minister onto the marae tomorrow.
Maori activist Titewhai Harawira appointed herself to the role many years ago, but Ngapuhi elders are now pushing for a change of escort.
ONE News reporter Paul Hobbs says when Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae arrived this morning, Harawira was waiting for him at the marae gates.
Harawira told ONE News: "I'm here to do the things Ngapuhi asked of me no matter what."
Harawira, a longtime activist and escort of prime ministers onto the marae, has taken up her role there alongside the Governor-General, "and has been most defiant, saying that she will again do that job tomorrow with the Prime Minister," Hobbs said from the lower marae at Te Tii.
The marae has already appointed another kuia (elderly woman) to walk along with the Prime Minister.
The kuia, Ani Taurua, told ONE News this morning that she is honoured to do the job and would like to do it.
"We'll just have to wait for tomorrow and see what happens," she said.
Even Marae trustees expect Taurua will be steamrolled.
"I think she's afraid to stand in Titewhai's way, and I think a lot of them consider Titewhai as a bully," Te Tii Marae Trustee Kingi Taurua said.
Key said it is "ultimately a matter for the elders at Ti Tii Marae, but look in all probability it'll be Titewhai Harawera I expect".
Far North Maori say it is an unwanted distraction from the serious issues facing Maori.
He Korowai Trust chief executive Ricky Houghton said: "The poverty line has shifted and it's getting worse. Unemployment has gone up significantly. Our community is in crisis."
Tomorrow Maori will also get their first opportunity to go face to face with the Prime Minister on the water rights debate.
Key's refusal to talk about water rights with the Maori Council has clearly got backs up.
"Key is acting like a child in a tantrum," Maori Council Co-Chairman Maanu Paul said.
"He has a very brutal and violent way of relating with Maori."
Key said he cannot see why he would make those comments.
"This is a government that has completed a huge number of settlements in the time that we've been in office.
"I understand the Maori Council's perspective when it comes to water. We've seen those arguments now taken to the Supreme Court no I stand by the views I've always held."
Others 'need to be rewarded'
Earlier this morning, Ngapuhi elder Kingi Taurua, speaking on behalf of the marae trustees, said a new kuia has been given the role of leading invited guests onto the marae because the trustees wanted to give some other kuia an opportunity to do this job.
"These kuia have been working in a marae, cooking food, washing toilets and all those kind of jobs. So they need to be rewarded," Taurua told TV ONE's Breakfast from outside the marae.
"A lot of our kuia in Waitangi and Ngapuhi really would like to do this work," Taurua said, adding that when the kuia was approached to do it she was very happy.
He said some of the trustees had spoken to Harawira about the change and she had talked to them.
But Harawira told ONE News she had not been told of any changes.
Taurua said: "And she says that the position belongs to her and belonged to her since the beginning of time and that what trustees are doing is undermining her and undermining her mana.
"But... everyone on a marae has mana. The marae has mana, the trustees have mana, the people who work behind in the kitchen has mana. We need changes and they think that every year a new new kuia will actually lead them on."
Taurua said Titiwhai Harawira was still welcome to come to the marae, as everybody is, but the trustees decided change needed to happen.
'Total chaos' warning
Meanwhile, Ngapuhi elder David Rankin is warning that the battle over who will lead John Key onto the marae could turn into total chaos.
Rankin said it was culturally incorrect for someone who belonged to a marae to be welcomed on to it.
He was concerned that if Harawira "bullies her way in" it could turn violent.
TVNZ's Te Karere reporter Tini Molyneux told Breakfast the marae trustees would not stop Harawira escorting MPs onto the marae.
"She's been doing this for years, she's been allowed to do it for years, so whether she's self-appointed or not, who's going to be brave enough to stop her?" Molyneux asked.
"And the other reason is if they do stop her, what sort of situation will they end up with? Will they end up with a worse situation than they've already got now? But there's no doubt that the committee at Te Tii would like to see changes."
Key has said he would not be surprised if there was drama because it was pretty common at the commemorations, but he hoped it did not come to that.
Key said he did not know who would be escorting him onto the marae.