Councils believe they are free from Te Tiriti o Waitangi obligations, Te Runanga o Te Rarawa chair Haami Piripi says.
His comment follows a Te Puni Kokiri survey on the experience of iwi and hapu in dealing with councils on resource management applications.
Councils come off badly in the study, with tribes attacking local authorities for their lack of understanding.
Mr Piripi says there is a tendency for councils to preserve their own authority and status, and to relegate Maori participation to a minor role.
However, local government needs to be more sensitive to Maori culture and recognise the deep cultural and sacred nature of kaitiaki responsibility, he says.
Mr Piripi singled out the Whakatane District Council and the Auckland Council as having a good understanding of kaitiaki.