Dame Nganeko Minhinnick, who led environmental stewardship and kaitiakitanga in the Auckland and Waikato region, has finally returned to Tahuna Marae to be mourned by her people of Ngāti Te Ata and Waikato.
Ngāti Te Ata, Te Waiōhua, arrived en masse to pay their respects to their champion.
"We are overcome with grief at her passing. That's all the sub-tribes of the river as far as the tribes of the Manukau Harbour, wider Auckland, throughout the country," said family spokesperson, Kapi Peita.
In her early teens, she was selected by her elders to research stolen lands in the region in the Māori Land Court because of her ability to converse in English.
"When she was young, she fought the Auckland Council on issues regarding our treasures such as the Manukau Harbour, the Waikato River and significant land areas and mountains," said Peita.
In 1982, she led a landmark Waitangi Tribunal claim to clean up the Manukau Harbour, Waikato River and Maioro burial grounds from pollution by NZ Steel Mill at Glenbrook and the Māngere sewage treatment plant.
"Because of her relentless appeals to the Crown and in the courts, she initiated change by the government regarding the Resource Management Act."
Dame Nganeko shared her experience of standing for social, cultural and environmental justice at several UN indigenous forums.
"Even recently, when she was in hospital, she delegated what needed to be done and taken care of. We must fulfill her request, which will bring to completion all of her dreams, to continue the work she began years ago."
The Manukau Harbour is what she fought for. The matriarch will be buried (beside these waters) at her final resting place among her ancestors at her marae cemetery of Te Iti o Tahuna.