Dame Katerina Mataira, an influential figure in the revival of the Maori language, has died at the age of 79.

She died yesterday morning in Hamilton.

She was created Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for her services to the language in the recent Queen's Birthday honours.

The Maori party said tonight Dame Katerina, of Ngati Porou, earned universal respect for the passion she helped generate in the revival of te reo Maori.

She did this through her influence as an artist and writer, a scholar and intellectual, a grass-roots organiser and teacher and visionary leader.

Part co-leader Dr Pita Sharples said she was inspired by the "silent way" method of language teaching and adapted it for teaching Maori.

She and her friend, the late Kumeroa Ngoi Pewhairangi, launched the unique language revitalisation movement now known as Te Ataarangi.

"We also think of her as the mother of kura kaupapa Maori," Dr Sharples said.

Dame Katerina wrote several novels and published award winning picture books in Maori for children.

Dame Katerina Te Heikoko Mataira, born in Tokomaru Bay in 1932, trained as a teacher and art educator.

She had nine children with her husband Junior Te Ratu Karepa Mataira. She also leaves behind 50 grandchildren and great grandchildren and one great great grandchild.

A tangi will be held on Tuesday at Ohinewaiapu Marae in Rangitukia, 25km north east of Ruatoria.