Mahuta was the first Maori leader to negotiate a satisfactory compensation settlement with the New Zealand government for tribal land confiscated under European settlement in the fledgling colony. In a deal completed in late 1994, he won a package worth NZ$170m for his Tainui tribe for the seizure of 485,000 hectares of land in the North Island's Waikato Region 131 years earlier. Significantly for all Maoris, the settlement included the first formal apology given by the Crown to the indigenous people for historical wrongs during colonisation.
He was born Robert Jeremiah Ormsby in Te Kuiti, New Zealand, on 26 April 1939. His father, also Robert Jeremiah Ormsby, was part-Maori. His mother was Te Amohia Ormsby, and her mother was Piupiu Te Wherowhero, a leader within the kahui ariki (Maori royal family). Piupiu was a daughter of Te Wherowhero, the younger son of King Tāwhiao.
Robert Ormsby was adopted by King Korokī at four weeks old, and became the brother of Princess Piki, later the Maori Queen, Dame Te Atairangikaahu. He changed his name by deed poll to Robert Te Kotahi Mahuta when he was 24.
Mahuta married Raiha (née Edmonds) in 1964 and had one son and two daughters. His eldest is a son Tukaroto Mahuta (who has four sons and a grandson). His elder daughter, Nanaia, is a Labour MP (and has one son) and his younger daughter is Tipa (who has one daughter and a granddaughter).
He was the director of Maori Studies and Research at Waikato University from 1972 to 1977. He studied at Wolfson College, Oxford, in 1977. Mahuta served as a Treaty of Waitangi Fisheries Commissioner, Chairman of the Maori Development Corporation and Chairman of the Tainui Maori Trust Board. For his services to the Maori people he was made a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit (KNZM) in 1997.
"Sir Robert's achievements are unsurpassed, irrespective of the troubles in recent times," said former Minister of Māori Affairs, Parekura Horomia. Mr Horomia had the utmost respect for Bob and was grateful for the opportunity to work with him, which they did so on numerous occasions.
- Gregory, Angela (2 February 2001). "Sir Robert Mahuta: a flawed colossus". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 13 May 2012.
- Barber, David (5 February 2001). "Obituary: Sir Robert Mahuta". The Independent. Retrieved 12 June 2011.
- Cooper, Tracey (1 February 2001). "Sir Robert Mahuta dies". Retrieved 13 May 2012.
- Te Kīngitanga: The People of the Māori King Movement. p. 2. Retrieved 13 May 2012.
- "New Zealand Hansard - Members Sworn. Volume 651. Page 2.". Parliament of New Zealand. 8 December 2008. Retrieved 12 June 2011.