Labour Maori affairs spokesman Parekura Horomia has died.
A statement issued by Horomia family spokeswoman Mere Pohatu said he passed away at 4.30pm this afternoon at his home at Mangatuna, Tolaga Bay surrounded by his whanau.
"He will arrive at Hauiti Marae, Tolaga Bay late Tuesday afternoon."
Funeral details will be announced in due course, Pohatu said.
Labour Leader David Shearer said he and his colleagues were devastated at Horomia's loss.
"New Zealand has lost a truly great Maori leader," Shearer said.
"The Labour whanau is heart-broken today."
Former prime minister Helen Clark also paid tribute.
"Parekura was a greatly valued minister in my government. I relied on him enormously for his knowledge of Maoridom and Maoritanga," she said.
"Parekura was infallibly a source of good advice and insights. He prioritised Maori economic, social, and cultural development, and was enormously and justifiably proud of the achievements during his time as Minister of Maori Affairs.
"Parekura was one of the kindest people I have ever known.
"He put himself at the service of his people and New Zealand. He worked tirelessly as a minister and as a Member of Parliament for one of New Zealand's largest electorates.
"For me Parekura was a very good friend and colleague. He will be greatly missed by me. My heart goes out to Parekura's whanau and community at this sad time."
Colleagues rushed to his bedside after his family issued a statement confirming he was ill.
Those close to him said he had been ill for some time and had missed several high-profile events he would normally have attended this year, including Ratana celebrations and the national Waitangi Day celebrations in the Bay of Islands.
His death will spark a by-election in the Ikaroa-Rawhiti seat he has held for Labour since 1999.
Earlier the MP's family requested privacy but said in a statement he had been convalescing at home.
Labour's acting leader Grant Robertson would not say what the nature of Horomia's illness was.
Horomia, 62, was born in Tolaga Bay and was Maori affairs minister for eight years in the Helen Clark Government.
Horomia had spoken openly about his health battles in the past, particularly his weight and diet.
He tried many times to lose weight, going on a very public diet in 2004 to try and encourage others to do the same.
In 2003, while Maori affairs minister, fellow Maori MPs questioned whether he was healthy enough to do the job.
"I'm a chronic asthmatic born with an enlarged heart but I'm more than certain it doesn't impinge on my ability to do the job. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to understand that I've carried around too many kgs," Horomia said.
UNCONVENTIONAL LIFE IN POLITICS
It's a long way to the Beehive from the rugged East Coast roads Parekura Horomia used to walk as a barefoot child.
The large Maori MP followed an unconventional path to Parliament as a labourer and printer before eventually becoming a public servant and working his way up through the Department of Labour.
In 1999, he became MP for Ikaroa-Rawhiti and had held the eastern Maori seat since then.
Horomia, 62, was Maori Affairs Minister for eight years under the previous Labour government and had a number of associate ministerial portfolios including fisheries, forestry and education.
He was the Maori affairs select committee deputy-chair and his party's Maori affairs and Treaty negotiations spokesman.
In his maiden speech to Parliament, Horomia recalled walking the five kilometres to school in Tolaga Bay while a near empty bus drove past to pick up the local Pakeha kids.
He went on to discuss the ''matrix of dysfunctionality within Maoridom'' - a phrase that would become the original Parekurism, a tongue-in-cheek look at some of Horomia's more obscure statements.
The humorous MP also had a habit of calling everyone ''chief'', even though he was himself Labour's kaumatua.
His respected position was criticised at times, including following the recent reshuffle when he retained the Maori affairs portfolio despite not being on the front bench, or after repeated speculation about his retirement during the previous two election campaigns.
But Horomia did not retire.
In 2008 he fought off a challenge from broadcaster Derek Fox at a time when Labour was battling for support with the Maori Party, and in 2011 he increased his majority by several thousand votes.
Despite not always being seen to do much, Horomia was vital behind the scenes for Labour in terms of forging links with Maori and for his skills as a orator on the marae.
Of Ngati Porou, Te Aitanga Hauiti, Ngati Kahungunu and Ngai Tahu descent, Horomia was born in Tolaga Bay in 1950 and was raised by his extended whanau.
In his younger days he was a representative of the East Coast rugby team and was also known to step out for the Parliamentary team early in his political career.
But for years he had been plagued with health problems brought on by obesity.
Horomia, a widower, is survived by his three sons and one grandchild.
- © Fairfax NZ News
Is Shane Jones' departure a crisis for Labour?Related story: Jones job offer 'not shot at Labour' - PM