When Hastings schoolgirl Hena Dugh picked up a pen to write a speech on race relations there was only one idea that weighed on her mind - our unconscious bias.

The Hastings Girls' High School deputy head girl went on to win the national final of the Race Unity Speech Awards that featured the country's top orators speaking on the topic 'Give Nothing to Racism'.

Her speech challenged listeners to recognised their shared humanity, asking "If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you poison us, do we not die?"

The 17-year-old told Hawke's Bay Today she first heard about the competition two years ago and wanted to give it a go in her final year of high school.

Advertisement

"Racism has always been a subject that's literally affected all my life decisions and what opportunities I've been offered.

"So I just thought that this is something I've been really passionate about and I should give it a go."

Her family hails from Punjab, India, but Dugh was born and raised in Hastings and considers herself a 'Kiwi-Indian'.

"The diversity is growing in all New Zealand schools, not just Hawke's Bay. New Zealand is quite a multicultural society, one of the biggest in the world.

"I've always found myself intrigued by other cultures that you meet here because it's always really fascinating to see what a person's background is and what their values are."

Dugh crafted her award-winning speech in March under the watchful eye of English teacher Nicola Lewis.

She won the regional competition and, after getting through the semifinals in Auckland, won the final competition as the last speaker.

Her speech asked all New Zealanders to consider whether they would contribute to racism, or be part of the solution.

"Every day a fight is going on inside you. It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves.

"We all have a choice - whether to feed the wolf of compassion, peace and acceptance or the wolf of resentment and racism.

"So now, I ask you, which wolf will you feed?" she says.

Dugh said she knew she wanted to tackle unconscious bias in her speech before she started writing it.

"I think what I've really tried to achieve with this speech is raising that awareness and getting people to recognise that this is a real issue."

The competition was "an amazing experience" and she hoped to return to the competition as a listener in coming years, she said.

"Youth from all over New Zealand were expressing such amazing and motivational personal stories.

"It was really heartfelt and it really got to me that this is such a big issue in Aotearoa and it's going to affect our future generations if we don't take a stand now."

Lewis said Dugh had worked incredibly hard for the speech competition.

"She's an angel to work with because she is so responsive, open to advice and she listens. It was such a joy watching each one of her drafts and deliveries improve.

"She just a delight to work with and it's been an absolute pleasure watching her grow in confidence. When she won I was just ecstatic."

Dugh will perform her speech at school on Monday and hopes to study first-year biomedical science at the University of Auckland next year.