For the first time in the 12-year history of the New Zealander of the year award, the three finalists are all Māori.
One of Dame Lisa Carrington (Te Aitanga a Mahaki, Rongowhakaata, Ngāti Porou), Dame Hinewehin Mohi (Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāi Tūhoe) and Sir Tipene O'Regan (Ngāi Tūhoe) will be named the 2022 New Zealander of the Year. Previous Māori winners include Mike King (2019), Taika Waititi (2017) and Dr Lance O'Sullivan (2014).
There are nine other Māori finalists across the six other categories.
Miriama Kamo, patron of the awards, is thrilled to see so many Māori being acknowledged for their various contributions to Aotearoa in recent years.
"When I became the patron there were three different platforms that I wanted to tackle. One of them was diversity, and inclusion ensuring that the awards are representative of Aotearoa and taking the awards away from feeling like it was about honouring elite Pākehādom I suppose, and making it truly what our country is about."
The Local Hero of the Year award is another category that features three Māori who are tireless workers in their communities. Women's rights campaigner Dame Areta Koopu (Te Aitanga a Hauiti, Ngāti Konohi, Ngāti Kahu), human rights advocate Caroline Herewini (Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāi Tūhoe) and Dave Letele (Maniapoto) have been nominated by their respective communities.
Letele has been helping Māori and Pasifika whānau in Auckland for a decade to get active and lead healthier lifestyles but has turned his attention to helping those same communities navigate through the Covid-19 pandemic. He has been nominated for the award previously and says it's always an honour to be acknowledged by the people, whether he wins or not.
"It's a real privilege to be nominated by the people you are helping and serving. It means a lot.
"It's amazing, not only for me but for our group, our many volunteers, our workers that are here. It's great recognition. It [serving the community] can be taxing on you so, when these things happen, it gives nice little booster.
"Eight years ago I had nothing, I was living a really bad life. To now helping so many people and having a positive impact, it's a great feeling."
Kamo says one pleasing aspect has been the number of Māori nominating their Māori heroes for the awards, something she says has appeared difficult in the past.
"We have a sense of humility about what we do. And that's because we are driven by service and by the collective and by what's best for everyone."
Rereata Mākiha, a respected journalist and more recently, a strong advocate for mātauranga Māori, especially maramataka Māori is one of two Māori finalists for Senior New Zealander of the year.
At first, he says, he didn't want to accept his nomination, believing he wasn't worthy. That is until someone asked him what if it was of his mokopuna who put his name in the ring,
"Kātahi ka whakaae ahau kia tuku, engari he pai ake taku haere ki ngā mahinga kai, ki te kerikeri kūmara i te whakahōhā i te tangata," Mākiha says. (So eventually I agreed, but I have to say I would much rather be in the garden digging kūmara than being made a fuss of."
Both Mākiha and Letele say it's great to see so many Māori nominated, and even better becoming finalists.
"Pai te kite i te tokomaha o ngā kanohi Māori kua tirohia ake nei e te ao whānui, me taku whakapae kei te tahuri mai tērā taha ki te āta hakarongo pea ki wā tātou auhā e kārangirangi ana kia whai wāhi wō tātou nei reo me ngā kōrero tuku iho a ō tātou mātua tūpuna," Mākiha says. (It's good to see so many Māori acknowledged by the wider community, I guess it could be a sign that that side of the country is starting to take note of our constant fight for our language and inherited knowledge."
Letele says, "Proud to be Māori! Proud to do the mahi and proud to stand alongside all my people on the big stage. It's no secret, especially at the community level, Māori and Pasifika, we're there. Where volunteering, we're offering our time, we're serving it's what we are about. It's no surprise to me, especially in the community hero that we're all there."
Kamo says, despite being unapologetic in pushing for diverse recognition in the awards, the respective finalists are all well-deserving of the honour.
"We honour the best. And so the best have risen, and they happen to be Māori.
"These are Māori who are driven by a sense of service. When you are driven by anything other than your own interest, whether it's your own community or, in the case of so many of our finalists wanting to uplift their whānau, hapū and iwi, you can't go wrong. You are a hero."
The full list of finalists, with the winners to be announced at the end of March are:
NEW ZEALANDER OF THE YEAR:
Dame Hinewehi Mohi
Tā Tipene O'Regan
YOUNG NEW ZEALANDER OF THE YEAR:
Ezra Hirawani (Waikato)
Stan Walker (Ngāi Te Rangi)
SENIOR NEW ZEALANDER OF THE YEAR:
Dr Murray Heasley (Ngāti Raukawa, Toa Rangatira)
Ngatuakana O-Rangi Wichman
NEW ZEALAND INNOVATOR OF THE YEAR
NEW ZEALAND ENVIRONMENTAL HERO OF THE YEAR
Charmaine Bailie (Te Uri o Hau - Ngāti Whātua ki Kaipara)
Hayden Smith (Ngāi Tahu)
Jacqui Forbes (Ngāruahine, Ngāti Tama, Maniapoto, Ngāti Paoa)
NEW ZEALAND COMMUNITY OF THE YEAR
The Polynesian Panther Party
NEW ZEALAND LOCAL HERO OF THE YEAR
Dame Areta Koopu