NZer awards were a great night for Maori

Last updated 05:00 07/03/2014

I was lucky to attend the New Zealander of the Year awards night last week, which is an evening that celebrates many of this country's unsung heroes.

Awards like top community and local hero honours are given out and people who have given so much to this country but are seldom heard or seen are celebrated.

The premier award is the New Zealander of the Year Award. The finalists this year were Catriona Williams, founder of the CatWalk Spinal Cord Injury Trust, Dame Iritana Tawhiwhirangi and Dr Lance O'Sullivan. No Maori in the previous four years had made the final in this category, so it was fantastic to see Whaea Iritana and Lance being honoured.

I know that when I single out Maori that some people find this irritating and perceive this as rascist.. It's just a sad fact though that Maori are not acknowledged and recognised enough across mainstream New Zealand so when we have some success it's only right that it is brought to everyone's attention. And that was without doubt the case last week.

Iritana Tawhiwhirangi is an icon in the Maori world. She is 85 and is seen as the matriarch of the kohanga reo movement. She was the leader for years and is one of the most inspiring speakers and leaders in Maoridom.

To see her honoured as she was on the night made so many of us happy because while Maori are aware of her achievements she is sadly unknown to 99 per cent of Pakeha.

The last year hasn't been her best with kohanga being put under the microscope by Maori TV. However her life's work deserved to be honoured and that was without doubt the case on the night.

Dr Lance O'Sullivan, however, absolutely deserved the title of New Zealander of the Year. He had a troubled youth and was expelled from two schools before he was 15 but he credits his turnaround to being sent to Hato Petera College. Lance immersed himself in his Maoritanga, became dux, head boy and the school's sports champion. He eventually graduated as a doctor and his best work is happening in Kaitaia.

Lance is different from other doctors. He's the only one I know who will treat a patient even if the patient can't pay him. He runs free medical clinics and the school-based Manawa Ora Korokoro Health Service for more than 2000 kids as well as a very low-cost health clinic.

What distinguishes this young man is that he is totally committed to addressing the issues around poverty in the community and is determined to help Maori access the health needs that they are entitled to.

He is someone that all New Zealanders can be proud of.

- Manukau Courier

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