Key Points:

Maori rights activist and te reo advocate Syd Jackson has died after a battle with cancer.

Mr Jackson has been credited with putting the Treaty of Waitangi on the political agenda and playing a leading role in the resurrection of te reo Maori. He died in Auckland yesterday at the age of 68.

Mr Jackson, of Ngati Kahungunu and Ngati Porou, was also an experienced industrial relations worker, serving as secretary of the Northern Clerical Workers' Union for 17 years.

Nephew Willie Jackson said his uncle walked the talk when it came to activism.

From his early days as the spokesman for the Maori protest group Nga Tama Toa to his position as CEO of Turuki Health Care, Mr Jackson was a dedicated leader.

"He put activism on the TV and talked about Maori rights; he was the face of Maori rights," Willie Jackson said.

He said his uncle Syd never voted because he didn't believe in Parliament but fought for tino rangatiratanga - self-determination.

Veteran activist Titewhai Harawira said although the media and politicians vilified Syd throughout his life, he remained a gentleman and a staunch campaigner for te reo Maori.

"For myself, Syd and Nga Tama Toa, it was about fighting for our language because to kill the language was to kill the people so we made a determined effort to go out and rescue our language," Mrs Harawira said.

She said despite getting kicked off Marae around the country, Syd kept up the struggle.

"The media painted him to be a two-headed monster but he was always a gentleman," Mrs Harawira said.

She said the frontline of activism was thinner with the death of Mr Jackson.

"He was an inspiration to everybody in the community, whether they loved or hated him," Mrs Harawira said.

Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia said Mr Jackson was a true agent of change who laid the foundations for the Maori Renaissance.

"Some forty years ago in 1968, it was Syd, the son of the 1937 All Black and Maori Battalion veteran Everard Jackson, who challenged the Federation of New Zealand Maori Students that All Black tours to South Africa should be opposed as a stand against apartheid," Mrs Turia said.

Her co-leader Pita Sharples praised Mr Jackson's work in health management.

"In more recent years, he brought that same passion and zeal to the health movement, establishing Turuki Healthcare as a pioneering organisation to deliver affordable and accessible healthcare for the people of South Auckland," said Dr Sharples.

National Party spokesman for Maori Affairs Tau Henare worked under Mr Jackson at the Clerical Workers' Union.

"He was awesome as a boss. You couldn't wish for a better manager or a better boss. The thing he taught me was how to advocate on behalf of people," Mr Henare said.

In 1993 when Mr Henare ran for Parliament, Mr Jackson told him he'd never get in because the establishment wouldn't allow it. "But he was the first one to say well done," Mr Henare added.

Mr Henare said Maori were in a better place because of people like Mr Jackson.

Syd Jackson's body will be taken to Hastings for burial.