Māori leader, academic and businessman Sir Ngātata Love has died.

Love, 81, died peacefully at his Korokoro home on Wednesday last week, surrounded by loving whānau.

Born in Lower Hutt, Love was a powerful advocate for Māori throughout the lower North Island, working with various groups on Waitangi Tribunal claims and land issues.

He was a professor in business studies, managed the Wellington Tenths Trust and the Palmerston North Māori Reserve Land Trust, and served terms as chief executive of Te Puni Kokiri and the Ministry of Māori Development.

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He was awarded a PhD from Victoria University of Wellington in 1978, and eventually became Emeritus Professor at both Massey University and Victoria University of Wellington.

Controversy hit in 2016 when, while in poor health, Love was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in jail for obtaining property by deception.

He and his former partner, the late Lorraine Skiffington, used a $1.5 million payment from a land developer, given as a premium for access to valuable land owned by the Wellington Tenths Trust, to repay most of a mortgage on a Plimmerton house they co-owned.

Love appealed his conviction and sentence last year citing he suffered from dementia and was not mentally fit to stand trial, but it was turned down by the Court of Appeal.

Sir Ngātata Love and then-Prime Minister Sir John Key hongi during 2009 after signing an historic Crown apology. Photo / File
Sir Ngātata Love and then-Prime Minister Sir John Key hongi during 2009 after signing an historic Crown apology. Photo / File

He was released on parole a year ago after less than a year of his sentence.

Dame Tariana Turia said Love was " dedicated to doing his best for Māoridom".

"His commitment over his lifetime was massive and we must not let the recent years of his downfall redefine the considerable sacrifices and leadership he had made for decades before.

"His legacy of service was impressive and I will always be thankful for his support and his guidance."

Turia said she fondly recalled the support he gave her when she was first made a minister in the 1999 government.

"Having the right people to give expression to your aspirations is key to being an effective minister.

"Ngātata knew that – and he was prepared to search wide in order to find the team to help me make change. I will always give him the utmost respect for that."

Love's contributions to New Zealand were recognised when he was made a Companion of the Queen's Service Order (QSO) in 2001, and a Knight Grand Companion of The New Zealand Order of Merit (GNZM) in 2008.

The previous Government left the decision on whether or not to strip Love of his knighthood following his conviction to the next Government.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern today said the Cabinet office had confirmed an honour could not be cancelled once a person had died.

"No further steps can therefore be taken in this matter."

A statement from Love's whānau and Reverend Charles Waldegrave described him as an "active and passionate worker for Māori [who] supported many people who wanted to provide better lives for their whānau".

"From a young age, Ngātata travelled throughout Taranaki, Whanganui and Ratana Pa at his father's side absorbing the accounts of injustice from his elders.

"He felt the mamae (hurt) of his people early on and his life would be defined by the fight for justice and fairness for his people.

"His kaumatua experienced the Taranaki land wars, and many were also subject to mock trials, media vilification and wrongful imprisonment.

"He actively fought against land sales and mismanagement of Māori Reserve Lands by successive government-appointed Māori Trustees.

"He worked with others to abolish the discriminatory Māori Reserved Land laws that bound Māori landowners to perpetually leased lands at peppercorn rentals.

"He also led the Muru Raupatu Waitangi Tribunal claims processes in Taranaki and Wellington, laying the foundations for the Treaty Settlements enjoyed by those groups today."

It was "very sad the latter years of his life were drowned unsuccessfully defending himself from accusations of fraud", the statement read.

"A considerable proportion of those who were informed and understood the complexities of the case, seriously question that judgement. As with other cases of legal doubt in New Zealand, his side of the story will emerge in time.

"His whānau and supporters will continue to fight to right the injustices he endured in his latter years. Just as he spent his life fighting to right the injustices suffered by his tupuna and many others, his family will fight to right this one."

Love is survived by five children, 35 mokopuna and numerous nieces, nephews, cousins, whanaunga and friends.

As requested by Love, a private service was held for him on Friday, October 19.

A public memorial service will be held at Pipitea Marae, 55-59 Thorndon Quay, at 1.30pm this Sunday, October 28.