Sir Tipene O'Regan says he thought "an old chap" like himself was off people's radar by now.
But the 83-year-old was today appointed to the Order of New Zealand – the highest accolade in this country's honours system.
One of New Zealand's most respected and admired kaumatua, O'Regan has dedicated his life to building a bicultural nation.
O'Regan was pivotal in bringing about the 1997 Ngai Tahu Deed of Settlement and the subsequent Ngai Tahu Claims Settlement Act 1998.
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These laid the foundations for a tribal asset portfolio that currently stands in excess of $1.8 billion and set a number of benchmarks for the historical Treaty claims process.
He helped negotiate and shape legislative responses to Māori interests in fisheries, both commercial and non-commercial and was the founding chair of Te Ohu Kaimoana (Treaty of Waitangi Fisheries Commission).
Sir Tipene was the founding assistant vice-chancellor (Māori) at the University of Canterbury until 2011.
He was deputy chair of Transit New Zealand from 2000 to 2006, and a member of the New Zealand Geographic Board from 1985 to 2013, making a significant contribution to its bi-cultural evolution and publications.
Named Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year earlier this year, O'Regan said being recognised in the list came as a shock.
He plans to celebrate with his family, surrounded by his 13 grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
O'Regan, together with fellow Order of New Zealand appointee Dame Silvia Cartwright, leads this year's 187-strong honour list, which also includes three new Dames (Ruth Aitken, Judge Carolyn Henwood and Judith McGregor) and three new Knights (Patrick Hohepa, Hugh Rennie, Collin Tukuitonga).