Political rivals, allies and friends joined the crowds gathered to say their goodbyes to Koro Wetere on Monday.
The former Māori Affairs Minister died in Te Kuiti Hospital on Saturday, aged 83.
Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters and former Prime Minister Jim Bolger paid their respects at a tangi on Tūrangawaewae Marae.
They were among more than 1000 who have visited the Waikato marae to farewell Mr Wetere.
"Many of us have marvelous memories of Koro," Mr Peters said.
"When they say nobody is indispensable, when it comes to the kind of character he had - and I'm talking about sincerity and integrity - he was and still is indispensable."
Koro Wetere entered politics in 1969, and was a Labour MP for more than 20 years. But as former National leader and Prime Minister Jim Bolger showed, he was respected by many irrespective of their politics.
"We both came from Te Kuiti, so it was a very easy relationship despite being on opposite sides of the house," he explained.
"I consider Koro a very good friend. I think what Koro has done is shown how a good person can come through and do a lot of good things - not only for Māori, but for New Zealand," Mr Bolger said.
Mr Wetere served as Māori Affairs Minister under David Lange, and fought to empower Māori.
New Zealand First Minister Shane Jones said: "He enjoyed playing golf, but at a political level he was a bridge between the activist movement of the 1980s and he turned a lot of the sentiment of the activist movement into genuine action."
Labour Minister Nanaia Mahuta, said he "always had a smile on his face, always tried to make whatever he was doing relevant to his community."
Among his long list of achievements was his work to have te reo Māori recognised both in Parliament and as an official language.
Deputy Labour leader Kelvin Davis said: "He has paved the way for those of us who want to use te reo Māori in the House."
Mr Wetere also extended the powers of the Waitangi Tribunal so it could investigate claims dating all the way back to 1840. He fought for iwi rights to fishing quotas and was a strong advocate for kohanga reo.
There's been a steady stream of people coming to the marae to pay their respects. Many at Tūrangawaewae Marae in Ngaruawahia described him as a down-to-earth man who loved opera.
Koro Wetere will be buried on the family farm near Te Kuiti on Wednesday.