Ngai Tahu elder Henare Rakiihia Tau dies

UNCLE RIK: Henare Rakiihia Tau.
DEAN KOZANIC/Fairfax NZ
UNCLE RIK: Henare Rakiihia Tau.

Ngai Tahu elder Henare Rakiihia Tau has died.

The lifelong Tuahiwi resident, and iwi kaumatua also known as Rik, suffered from emphysema and a heart condition.

Ngai Tahu chief executive officer Arihia Bennett today confirmed his death.

"It's been quite devastating for us, knowing Uncle Rik for most of my life," she said.

Tau welcomed the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William and wife Catherine - with baby Prince George - to Christchurch this year, three years after telling the prince during a post-quake trip to "nibble at the apple and be fruitful".

In the 2013 New Year honours, Tau gained the title of Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

He was korero, or speaker, for his pa at Tuahiwi and for Ngai Tahu, as well as a staunch advocate for Maori land and water rights.

He was a lead negotiator with the Crown for the 1998 Ngai Tahu settlement and a driving force behind the establishment of Maori customary fishing regulations.

Tau was a Rangiora County councillor before the Waimakariri District Council was formed and helped establish Ngai Tahu's tribal council, Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu.

Among his achievements was getting land compensated to the pa in 2008 for that taken by the council in 1968 for a motorway at Woodend to Belfast. Another was the opening of the new marae whare in 2012.

After receiving his New Year honour, he recalled having a wonderful life on the pa.

"I come from the age and era when [you] live off natural resources," Tau said.

"Two legs, four legs, feathers or fur, scales and slime. I can survive off the whole lot. I'm slowing down now. That's age catching up."

Although many young Maori had become more urbanised and "lost sight" of their past, the community was still strong and Maori had "much to be proud of ", he said.

His focus was the same as that of his ancestors: the cultural and spiritual wellbeing of the tribe, he said.

"Whenever there's a wrong, it's got to be righted. I step in at that point. I might be slower than I used to be but I'll be there to defend our history against those who want to divert it or deny it, no matter who they are."

Tau was the third child in a family of seven sisters and four brothers.

He had four sons and 10 grandchildren.

His whanau had asked for privacy until he was taken to his marae tomorrow morning.

The Press