Designated Maori seats are the best way to ensure councils are more representative, says the Maori Development Minister.
Minister Te Ururoa Flavell made the comments on a visit to Whangarei Art Museum this week as part of a regional visit.
The low number of Maori candidates in Northland's local government election pool was a theme "right around the country", he said.
Maori make up 29.6 per cent of the Northland population but fewer than 10 per cent of those standing for the October elections are believed to have Maori heritage.
"We should have designated seats or things will stay the same," Mr Flavell said. "[Maori] don't see a way into the council."
He described the chance of mostly non-Maori voters electing an advocate for Maori rights as "slim".
Pita Tipene, chairman of Whangarei District Council's (WDC) Maori advisory branch Te Huinga, said a lack of Maori representation mirrored lower voter turnout among Maori.
"[Maori] feel distant from the institution of government and this is magnified in local government. That's not to say people aren't thinking about and progressing issues," he said.
Te Huinga comprised 16 representatives from Whangarei hapu. Te Huinga met monthly with councillors, a partnership dubbed Te Karearea. This recently expanded to include three regional council representatives.
Mr Tipene described Te Karearea as "not ideal, but we are determined to move and work with whoever is in council in an incremental way".
Maori wards were a good idea, although something that was yet to come up for "substantive discussion" with WDC, Mr Tipene said.
"There's only one way of improving Maori representation, [through] the relationship enshrined in the Treaty. Until that manifests in central and local Government, Maori will not be happy."
Currently, councils could choose to establish Maori wards. But if 5 per cent of voters sign a petition opposing the move, the decision goes to a binding referendum. This was the process in April last year, when 68 per cent of Far North voters rejected Maori seats at the council table.
"The system itself is against Maori participation under that scenario," Mr Flavell said.
Mr Flavell was in Whangarei this week looking at a number of community and economic development projects.