What should have been a day of celebration for Ebana Brough's whanau on her first day at a Far North kohanga reo became a day of mourning.
The 18-month-old girl from the small community of Waipapakauri, about 13km northwest of Kaitaia, drowned on Sunday just a day before she was to start at the Aniwaniwa Kohanga Reo.
Her uncle and Labour MP Shane Jones said whanau gathered for the tangi at Maimaru Marae, at Awanui, were grief-stricken.
Yesterday about 40 children from the kohanga sang waiata and performed a haka to the little girl they will not get to know.
Mr Jones said: "It's an absolute tragedy, and as you might imagine the family is very upset. Any family that loses suddenly and tragically a toddler, especially to a drowning - people are grief-stricken."
He described his niece as a "sparkling little girl".
Her siblings Sydney Jones, 18, Amorangi Jones, 15, Kaea Jones, 6 and Zepher Brough, 3, were all at their sister's tangi.
Ebana fell into the Waipapakauri Creek after wandering a short distance from her home. She was discovered about 11.30am by her parents. She was rushed to Kaitaia Hospital but attempts to resuscitate her failed. Her death has been referred to the coroner.