The Mana Pounamu Young Achievers’ Awards celebrates its 20th year in 2020.

Mana Pounamu acknowledges the vast and varied achievements of rakatahi Māori (Māori youth) in secondary schools across Otago.

Usually, the Mana Pounamu recipients are celebrated in a ceremony that brings together secondary schools across Otago, award recipients, whānau and community.

This year, due to COVID, the ceremony has been cancelled but the recognition will continue with all 26 schools taking responsibility to celebrate their students’ achievements in-house.

Mana Pounamu celebrates the wonderful accomplishments of rakatahi Māori in secondary schools and aims to inspire them to consider tertiary education as a natural next step.

The Mana Pounamu Young Achievers’ Awards provides an opportunity to showcase our future leaders, providing inspirational role models to other Māori youth across the province. This year, there are a total of 48 award recipients consisting of both 24 tuākana (seniors) and 24 tēina (juniors).

Additional scholarships and awards are presented at the awards ceremony, including Otago Polytechnic Scholarships (full fees payment for a chosen course of study for senior Mana Pounamu recipients), University of Otago Scholarships (Hands-On Otago and for Commitment to Te Reo Māori), as well as the Otago Daily Times’ Award for Excellence in English.

Alongside a dedicated team of fellow Māori educators, the late Alva Kapa (a Kāi Tahu Tāua and passionate educator) initiated the Mana Pounamu Young Achievers’ Awards in 2001. The celebration was bestowed the title of ‘Mana Pounamu’ as it was first held in the Year of Mana Pounamu.

Dr Gianna Leoni, one of the recipients in 2001 of a Mana Pounamu Award, reflects on the mana of the experience:

“As a young kōtiro Māori, I probably underestimated its significance. I remember being proud to stand among a bunch of other awesome rangatahi and be selected by my school, as I had heaps of other friends who were just as worthy. As a kid who was disconnected from our tūrangawaewae, this award certainly helped drive my desire to learn more about my whakapapa.

“I think it gave me confidence as a young Māori person. I felt validated in my ethnic identity and confident in my own skin. It enabled me to see value in pursuing te reo me ōna tikanga as a subject of learning. So much so, that by the time I met with the year-11 Dean to talk about my studies, I told him that I wouldn’t be doing year-11 Science, as I didn’t need it when I left for university where I’d be studying a BA in Māori Studies.”

Currently a Lecturer at Te Tumu: School of Māori, Pacific & Indigenous Studies, University of Otago, Dr Leoni will start a new role as a Senior Data Analyst at Te Hiku Media, a company based in Kaitaia.

Dr Leoni says her understanding of the concept of “leadership”, and her approach to it, has changed over the past two decades.

“As a teenager, leadership for me meant guiding the way for others to follow. I was captain of sports teams, a “cultural leader”, and I think I found my way to those roles quite naturally.

“From leadership I’ve received since, and in particular from Māori mentors that I look up to, I’ve learnt more from those who have given me the opportunity to solve my own problems, and encouraged me to believe in my ability to do so.

“Now, I’d hope my leadership style reflects my desire to foster whanaungatanga and manaakitanga in any situation, and I think that is demonstrated in the recent successes of the South Pacific Rugby League & Sports Club.

“It’s also about being able to lead in a way that I’m comfortable with. That my beliefs and values, as a wahine Māori, are central to how I carry myself and complete any task, particularly in in a world that might not always be accepting of those values. And I think that’s what is so critical about awards such as Mana Pounamu. They remind us that we can be proud to be unapologetically Māori.”

Mana Pounamu is a Kāi Tahu initiative supported by Kā Papatipu Rūnaka ki Arāiteuru, the University of Otago, Otago Polytechnic, Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, the Ministry of Education and Otago Daily Times.

Published on 3 Nov 2020

Orderdate: 3 Nov 2020
Expiry: 31 Dec 2022