Four of five iwi positions at the Marlborough District Council remain empty, with many of the region's Māori skilled in governance "wrapped up in their own iwi dynamics".
The council's one iwi representative Richard Hunter said iwi were "getting on with their business", but called for them to get on board with wider district issues.
Hunter was about to start his 25th year at the council.
Māori representation was a hot topic in Marlborough's local body elections this year, with the region's youth calling for more iwi leaders around the council table.
But Hunter said it was not "just a matter of putting your name forward".
Anyone wanting to become an iwi representative at council had to get approval from the eight Te Tau Ihu (top of the south) iwi, and the Maataa Waka Ki Te Tau Ihu Trust and Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu.
"I know councillors are really putting their best foot forward to make it happen, but it's like asking someone to do something and they really don't want to do it," Hunter said.
Hunter decided to identify as 'mana Māori' to "shy away" from tribal politics.
"It's a political way of getting around the fact that I want to get involved with Māori, but not with iwi politics."
It was difficult to find representatives with the skills and time to join local government in a region where just 11.5 per cent of the population was Māori, Hunter said.
But Māori needed to sit at the council if they wanted to make a difference, he said.
The positions allowed Te Tau Ihu iwi to put their views across to council committees and to the Te Ao Māori sub-committee before items were put to full council for a final vote.
"You can't sit outside and look in and expect a say on how things should be done."
About four representatives had put their name forward in the last two decades, Hunter said.
Te Tau Ihu iwi chairs and general managers could not be reached for comment.
A report presented at the first full council meeting of the new term last week suggested iwi be asked to nominate members for council committees.
The council was to discuss the appointment process with iwi going forward.
The council met with Te Tau Ihu iwi earlier this year with the hope of encouraging more iwi into local government, following the establishment of the Te Ao Māori sub-committee late last year.
New Deputy Mayor Nadine Taylor, who chaired the sub-committee last term, said it was important the council gave iwi time to think over the methodology needed to fill the positions.
"Council have said we're respectful of the process. We know it's going to take time for them to have their own discussions and talk with each other," Taylor said.
Hunter was put forward for the assets and services committee at the meeting.
There were seats available on the environment committee, the community and finance committee, and two on the grants sub-committee.