Those who knew Saana Murray, who died at the weekend, say she was very much like the cultural treasures was trying to protect in the intellectual property treaty claim.
The Ngati Kuri kuia who had recently celebrated her 90th birthday was the only claimant of six iwi representatives still alive in July to receive the Waitangi Tribunal's WAI 262 report. It was a claim so complex it took 20 years for tribunal to complete.
At its heart, she told people it was about "Maori control of things Maori." Out of the claim the tribunal has mooted a raft of recommendations to protect indigenous knowledge which the government is still considering.
Te Rarawa's Haami Piripi said the far north matriarch was something special.
"She served the role of mana wahine in every court of Maori society. She had no problem with getting up in any Maori environment including the marae.
She had that much mana she was considered to be a living taonga by everybody around her.
"It's hard to buy that sort of wisdom these days, she's a huge loss."
He wants the government to move quickly on the report's recommendations - anything less and her advocacy for two decades will mean nothing.
"The report's already gathering dust. She waited with baited breath for that report...only to see it cast aside by a government which today in 2011 is not interested in establishing a regulatory protection framework on intellectual and cultural property. It's a disgrace."
Lawyer Moana Jackson acted for the WAI 262 claimants. Mrs Murray was a "brave visionary" who pursued it even in the face of opposition from Pakeha and Maori, he said.
"When it first started iwi weren't interested. Out of leftfield came this particular claim that wasn't about land. Quite a few people took a while to get their head around it but it just sort of grew and they realised the importance of it as time went on."
Maori MPs paid tribute yesterday. Co-leader Tariana Turia said Mrs Murray's loss was felt keenly.
"Saana lived her life in a way which left no-one in any doubt about her pride in her people of Te Hiku o te Ika [from the north] and in particular Ngati Kuri. Her dedication and her sacrifice to their survival was immense."
Te Tai Tonga's Rahui Katene said her own family had a deep love for Mrs Murray born out of her association with Mrs Katene's father who was also a WAI 262 claimant.
Her tangi continues at Te Hapua and she will buried at Spirits Bay on Wednesday.By Yvonne Tahana Email Yvonne