Maori religious leader and activist the Rev Eru Potaka-Dewes died yesterday, aged 70.

Maori party co-leader Dr Pita Sharples said Mr Potaka-Dewes, dean of theology at the Maori Anglican Theological College in Rotorua, would be sorely missed by his community.

The other co-leader, Tariana Turia, said he loved nothing better than a vibrant debate on history, Treaty of Waitangi claims, education and rangatiratanga.

Mr Potaka-Dewes was also known for his role in Jane Campion's film The Piano and acting in a love story called Rapa Nui, filmed on Easter Island and produced by Kevin Costner.

As both the instigator and subject of political and legal debate, Mr Potaka-Dewes earned himself the label of Maori radical. In 1986, he argued that appointing Pakeha Wally Hirsch as Race Relations Conciliator was a "smack in the teeth" for Maori.

He took the limelight over his dealings with a German financier and his involvement in the Maori Loans Affair, when he was one of the first to strongly advocate securing a large loan to finance development in the Hokianga.

Mr Potaka-Dewes, of Ngati Porou, Ngati Uepohatu and Te Whanau-o-Pokai, was one of the organisers of the Aotearoa Party, which emerged in 1987 emphasising a need for biculturalism.

In 1988, he was one of seven Maori leaders banned from visiting Paremoremo prison for protesting outside the jail and "holding negative attitudes" towards the staff.

He was also involved in the Maori departments of several Auckland schools and was most recently working as a part-time teacher at Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Ruamata in Rotorua.