11:45 AM

The Prime Minister and the Maori Affairs Minister have paid tribute to Tainui elder Sir Robert Mahuta who died overnight.

Sir Robert, aged 61, was regarded as the key to the ground breaking $170 million Tainui treaty settlement.

Maori Affairs Minister Parekura Horomia says the recent controversy over the way the settlement money has been used should not overshadow Sir Robert's achievements.


Prime Minister Helen Clark, who is today travelling with Mr Horomia in Northland, says Sir Robert made a huge contribution to Maori development.

Miss Clark said Sir Robert worked tirelessly on behalf of his people despite ill-health. She said the landmark settlement of Tainui's grievances was his crowning achievement.

Sir Robert, the former head of the Tainui Trust Board, was a diabetic who needed daily dialysis for kidney complications. He had been in Waikato Hospital for several weeks.

He was the step-brother of the Maori Queen, Dame Te Atairangikaahu.

His life was dedicated to achieving compensation for the 429,000ha confiscated from Tainui in 1863. The charismatic ruler was pivotal in clinching the $170 million raupatu (land confiscation) settlement with the Crown in 1995.

Last July Te Kaumaaruahe - the Tainui executive - removed Sir Robert from his position as director of the Waikato Raupatu Lands Trust, MDC Investment Holdings and Tainui Group Holdings after revelations of investment blunders that slashed $40 million from the tribe's balance sheet.

Despite the sacking, Sir Robert remained as Tainui's principal treaty negotiator, a custodial trustee and a member of Te Kaumaarua.

Sir Robert's funeral is expected to be held on Monday. His body is lying in state at Waahi marae in Huntly.

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