A power-struggle to control Te Wananga o Aotearoa is underway with its founder saying it is time his rival organisation led the education provider again.
Rongo Wetere is a member of the Aotearoa Institute, the former parent body of the wananga. He told Marae today he wants the institute to have a seat back on the wananga's council.
"They've destroyed our right to be represented on the council of the wananga and so we have no alternative but to take them to the cleaners," Mr Wetere said.
He resigned as TWOA's chief executive in 2005 after an Auditor General's report found inadequate management of conflicts of interests and poor decision making practices around expenditure.
But after eight years in Canada, Mr Wetere says he's returned to New Zealand to find a wananga he doesn't recognise and which had drifted from its original purpose of providing free education to improve life prospects.
"It's a taonga and a gift that we certainly want to control and look after again"
It's the latest salvo in a dispute which is starting to look like a protracted and ugly divorce.
The Aotearoa Institute is suing the wananga for $11.2 million alleging breach of intellectual property rights. Relations continued to deteriorate this week as $180,000 worth of artworks were removed from three campuses and returned to the institute.
Documents received under the Official Information Act reveal that despite not having any representation on the wananga's council the institute received $20 million in property lease income between 2003 and 2015 because of the formerly close relationship.
For much of the past decade the wananga has enjoyed relative stability. It has 32,000 students and receives $135 million in government funding.
Its chief executive Jim Mather said he expected the legal action to fail given a "locked-down airtight" 2006 legal settlement including offsetting a $7.5 million debt.
"I've taken the view that Te Wananga o Aotearoa will not be bullied by this legal action."
The Aotearoa Institute's time had passed, he said.
"I believe that we've got to conclude our relationship with the Aotearoa Institute - it's very much an association that's historical and a legacy of the past of the organisation and we need to be looking forward to the future."