Northland leader Russell Kemp was a visionary who exuded leadership and was dedicated to his greatest passion in life - rugby.

The Te Uri o Hau leader, who led his hapu to settlement with the Crown, passed away at his home in Kaiwaka on Wednesday, aged 71.

His many roles included chairman of the Otamatea Marae trustees, Te Runanga a iwi o Ngati Whatua, Te Uri o Hau Settlement Trust, and the Tai Tokerau Maori Trust Board.

He was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the most recent New Year Honours for his service to Maori.

Advertisement

Deborah Harding, chief executive of the Te Uri o Hau Settlement Trust, said Mr Kemp "exuded leadership".

"He always had huge visions for Maori people and especially for Ngati Whatua.

"At the forefront it was family first, then his marae, and then everyone after that," she said.

Mr Kemp was born in Paparoa in 1946 and raised on the shores of the Kaipara harbour. As a young man, he was called upon by the old people to lead them.

In 1991, Mr Kemp lodged the Wai 229 Treaty claim with the Waitangi Tribunal on behalf of his people and as a key negotiator led Te Uri o Hau in the signing of a Deed of Settlement with the Crown in 2000.

Mr Kemp also played a key role in securing Crown recognition of the Ngati Whatua runanga's mandate to negotiate a settlement of iwi-wide Treaty claims in 2008 and the Kaipara Harbour claim. He continued to lead negotiations with the Crown.

"Throughout and with so many hats, Russell always reported back to the people of Otamatea Marae, the matua marae of Ngati Whatua, as chair of Otamatea Marae Trustees," his whanau said in a statement.

Peter Wilson, who worked with Mr Kemp as a commercial adviser for the Te Uri o Hau Settlement Trust and the Ngati Whatua runanga, said Mr Kemp looked at the whole picture.

"He was a visionary in the sense that he could see a pathway for Maoridom to move forward to get benefits from Treaty settlements.

"He understood the difficulties that Maoridom have and how there is a pathway but there is not a silver bullet. It's not a sprint it's a longer journey."

Mr Wilson said Mr Kemp set a pathway in the Te Uri o Hau Settlement Trust and the Ngati Whatua runanga for others to follow.

"His question at the end of things would be 'how good are you?'. The trustees that follow him, he will be up there asking 'how good are you?'"

Mr Kemp's family said his greatest passion in life was rugby. He represented various clubs, coached the Otamatea Hawks to two premiership wins, and was member of many rugby committees over the past 40-plus years.

Even recently, Mr Kemp managed time to coach his moko in the Under 11s for a few training sessions.

Kevin Robinson, president of the Otamatea Hawks, said Mr Kemp was at the forefront of Maungaturoto and Eastern combining to form the Otamatea Hawks in about 1987.

"He was a great mentor. He expected the very best out of players, he expected them to be fit. We trained hard, played hard, and celebrated hard.

"He's a huge part of the Hawks. Still is. Even up to the end of last year he was still coming to meetings...We're very indebted to him."

Mr Kemp is survived by his wife Barbara, five children, 15 mokopuna, and his mokopuna tuarua (great-grandchildren).

A funeral service will be held at Otamatea Marae, Maungaturoto today at 11am, followed by burial at Kakarea Cemetery.