Sir Archie Te Atawhai Taiaroa from Te Atihau-aa-Paapaarangi, Ngaati Tuuwharetoa, Ngaati Maniapoto and Te Arawa, died on Tuesday night at Waikato hospital following a short illness.
Sir Archie, 73, led Treaty of Waitangi negotiations for Whanganui iwi and advanced the development and growth of the Whanganui River tribes.
He was on the board of the Treaty of Waitangi Fisheries Commission from 1993 until his death, the co-covenor of the Maori Congress and a trusted advisor to the late Maori Queen.
Sir Atawhai was made a Distinguished Companion of The New Zealand Order of Merit in 2003 for his contributions to Maori, and became a Knight Companion of the Order in 2009.
He was knighted in a ceremony at Hato Paora College, his former school.
Sir Archie Taiaroa is survived by his widow, Lady Martha, a son and three grandchildren.
Prime Minister John Key says Sir Archie's leadership was inspirational; he was a role model to young Maori and hugely influential in Maoridom.
Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples says it is impossible to overstate Sir Archie's importance to all Maori.
Labour MP Shane Jones says he owes a personal debt to Sir Atawhai, who nominated him to chair the Treaty of Waitangi Fisheries Commission.
He told Waatea News that like New Zealand Maori Council deputy chair Jim Nichols, who also died this week, Sir Atawhai was a leader in the classic mould.
Mr Jones described him as "someone of the ilk of Bob Mahuta and Matiu Rata".
Waatea News reports Sir Atawhai is expected to be taken home to Taumarunui, but other iwi he has whakapapa to, are asking he spend time with them on the way.
E te whanau pani, mokori anoo kia rere nga roimata me nga mihi aroha.