Te Tai Tokerau Iwi Chief Executives' Consortium representative Rangimarie Price says the Maori economy is suffering from "arrested development".
It is time Maori "changed the story", Ms Price told the Te Tai Tokerau Regional Economic Development Hui in Kerikeri this week.
The perception of negative Maori statistics and outcomes "is not really a narrative of who we want to be but of the challenges we face", she said.
"The new pathology will be: it is normal to be Maori, healthy, prosperous, educated and connected. That is not the story most people hear today."
In reality, Maori had "a developing economy within a developed economy" and "business as usual" models were not working, she said.
The solution to overcoming "arrested development" lay in creating development models based on he tangata, he whenua and he oranga - the people, their assets and their well-being, Ms Price said.
Ngai Takoto Runanga chief executive Rangitane Marsden spoke about the sustainable use of post-Waitangi Treaty settlements - which were "opportunities on a massive scale".
Maori were the economy until 1840; owning mills, farms, ships, export and import industries, and working in collective models, Mr Marsden said.
Sixty years ago, Maori assets had dwindled to very little but today included land, farms, forestry, tourism and property, he said.
"We need to get over ourselves and talk about collaboration ... Individually we are not going to be economic powerhouses but collectively we can be."
Mr Marsden cited "te hiku" models where primary industries, such as farming, were controlled by the iwi landowners. Iwi should no longer just be owners leasing their land to others but needed to create "effective partnerships where we're on an even footing", he said.
Iwi needed to take control from grassroots stock to processing, branding, marketing and exporting the product. That meant investing in the value-added end products, as well as research and development along the way - tapping into the science of the tree, as well as growing it, Mr Marsden said.
"How do we broker the conversation between Maori and non-Maori about the emerging economy?"
He said some people would be uncomfortable about the "way of the future".
"It doesn't have to be seen as threatening or frightening, but (Waitangi Treaty) settlements and the investment of them should have the ability to grow Northland's economy."