Strong support for Maori seats on a proposed Far North unitary authority shows how much society has changed in recent years, an iwi leader says.
A survey commissioned by the Far North District Council to gauge support for its unitary authority proposal also asked respondents about their views on Maori representation.
More than two-thirds - 69 per cent - said they backed the idea of dedicated seats for Maori, despite Maori being under-represented in the sample of 400 people. Maori make up about 45 per cent of the Far North's population but formed less than 20 per cent of the survey group.
Ngai Takoto leader Rangitane Marsden, who co-chairs the Better Local Government in the Far North Working Group, said the result was an eye opener.
"If the survey had been done a couple of years ago, it [support for Maori seats] would've been so minimal it would've been scary," he said.
He believed attitudes towards Maori representation were changing because non-Maori felt less threatened by iwi aspirations and saw the Maori economy's potential to change Northland for the better.
Iwi had also been doing more to engage with the council and the community, helping to break down the myth that "Maori wanted to take over the world".
With Treaty settlements signed by three out of five Te Hiku iwi and large swathes of unproductive land waiting to be used, people were realising Maori could be the Far North's economic powerhouse.
"Everything we're talking about is not just good for Maori, it's good for all communities."
Mr Marsden said the three proposed Maori seats at the nine-seat council table could be based on the Far North's existing wards.
The northern ward could, for example, select a representative for the five Te Hiku iwi, the western ward Ngapuhi, and the east Ngati Hine/Ngatiwai.
Any representatives would need to have a strong mandate and a high degree of support.
The Local Government Commission - which is expected to announce its preference for future local government in Northland after the October election - cannot impose Maori seats under current law.
That would be a decision for the new council. The Far North District Council is keen to see its proposal for a unitary authority and Maori seats combined.