Labour MP Shane Jones' suggestion that mining could give Northland's economy a boost that would stem the flow of young Maori to Australia has had a mixed reaction from iwi leaders.
But Labour's deputy leader, Grant Robertson, says more mining throughout New Zealand should be considered as long as it was not on protected conservation land.
In response to a Herald -DigiPoll survey suggesting most New Zealanders supported more mineral, oil and gas exploration, Mr Jones said Maori should be open to the prospect of mining in Northland.
A survey suggested the region, which suffers from high unemployment, holds gold and silver deposits alone worth $1.53 billion.
Te Rarawa chairman Haami Piripi agreed mining should be considered as an economic development opportunity in Northland. "As early as 1840 our ancestors mined kauri gum ... mining at the lower-impact end of the spectrum is not unreasonable," he said.
But Te Runanga-a-iwi o Ngati Kahu chief executive Anahera Herbert-Graves doubted mining would generate lasting benefits.
"There's an initial flush of work - but ... the experience around the world is that indigenous people don't make a lot of money out of it."
Mr Robertson said Labour's policy had remained constant for some years - it strongly opposed exploration on schedule four conservation land but was open to mining elsewhere.
Although the Herald's poll found a combined 67 per cent of those surveyed supported or cautiously supported more mineral, oil and gas exploration, a survey taken two years ago found 53 per cent of New Zealanders opposed mining on schedule four land.
"There is a threshold New Zealanders don't want to cross in terms of compromising our environment and Labour's very aware of that," he said.
Mana Party leader Hone Harawira said he was not anti-mining but was concerned about the environmental impact. "Maori leaders who talk about economic development as a panic measure and forget principles of conservation and future generations need to be very careful about what it is they're saying," he said.
The chief executive of mining industry group Straterra Chris Baker welcomed the support for more exploration revealed by the survey.