Iwi want a role in developing infrastructure projects such as toll roads, and not just driving the bulldozers but in investing and owning them as part of public-private partnerships.
Work is under way to discuss such a plan with Prime Minister John Key and Finance Minister Bill English at Waitangi.
It could be a way of investing some of the $1.018 billion in Treaty of Waitangi settlements, particularly by wealthier tribes such as Waikato-Tainui and Ngai Tahu.
Airports and utilities such as power stations are also in the sights of iwi.
The infrastructure investment idea was discussed at a hui in Wellington called by Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples, ahead of the jobs summit Mr Key will host in late February.
About 70 movers and shakers from Maoridom attended and another 30 enthusiasts turned up as well.
Many of the ideas will be fleshed out by a taskforce that Dr Sharples will set up to address the impact of the deepening recessions on Maori.
The notion of iwi getting involved in infrastructure emerged from the "tribal assets" workshop chaired by Tuwharetoa paramount chief Tumu Te Heuheu. Erima Henare, of Ngapuhi and who is chairman of the Maori Language Commission, took a lead role in the workshop.
"They don't want to be bit players and be bulldozer drivers. They actually want to have a viable partnership with the Crown and with private enterprise in the development."
Referring by way of example to the $360 million motorway extension that has just opened north of Auckland, he said: "If, say, Ngapuhi, Tainui, Ngai Tahu and Te Arawa for instance, came up with $100 million, that is one third ownership in the process."
The road is in state ownership and under National's promises could not be sold this term but it could be a future candidate for a public-private partnership.
Tainui and Ngai Tahu iwi have both built their respective $170 million settlements to an asset bases of about $700 million.
Tainui iwi chairman Tukuroirangi Morgan said last night: "We are poised and ready to go. We just need the gateway of opportunity to be opened by the Crown."
He said that the Crown was realising that "we are the sleeping economic giant in this country."
And he believed Auckland International Airport could be a candidate for iwi investment. "Maori have to aggregate its economic wealth and leverage in order to secure some of this countries largest assets, including Auckland International Airport, and if we don't it will be lost forever."
Dr Sharples reinforced the concept of collaboration among iwi to use its muscle: "Why aren't we building roads. Why are we settling for a little scheme around the back of the marae. Why aren't we in that big league... and saying we want to do it."
But Maori Party MP Hone Harawira said: "I think our people are in more need of decent housing than they are of decent roads."