A Kaikohe teenager with big dreams wants to shatter Northlanders' stereotypes of Maori, her school and her home town.
A poem Shania Howard, 17, recited at Northland College's prizegiving this month has been taking social media by storm - even though she never planned to recite it in public, let alone put it to paper.
Far North Mayor John Carter heard the poem (see below) and was so impressed he insisted Shania write it down and has been encouraging every Northlander to read it. It is by far the most popular post to date on the Far North District Council's Facebook page, with just under 5000 views as of 4pm yesterday.
Shania said she came up with the poem after becoming annoyed at negative attitudes about her school, even from her classmates. Many were convinced they would never achieve anything in life because they went to a decile one college in a town with its share of social problems.
Shania wants to prove them wrong. In February she is off to Waikato University to start a double degree in Maori development and law, despite having had to overcome serious challenges of her own, such as her mother dying when Shania was 11.
The poem also confronts stereotypes of Maori as no-hopers living off social welfare and getting drunk every day.
Of Ngapuhi and Te Rarawa descent, Shania said being Maori was a "really, really important" part of her identity. As she put it in her poem: Ko au ko toku ahurea, ko toku ahurea ko au (I am my culture and my culture is me).
"It was never meant to be read, I just wrote it for myself. It was always in my head. I was getting annoyed by hearing so many people talking negatively about our school, about how they weren't going to succeed because we're from a small, decile one school. They think we can't go out into the world and make a difference."
Shania said she had been amazed by the response.
"I'm just surprised that a poem that was never meant to be heard has had such a big impact and touched so many people."
Many others felt as she did, but she was able to express those feelings because she had been lucky enough to be exposed to drama and poetry.
The youngest of three siblings, Shania was raised in Wellington but has lived in Kaikohe with her great-uncle for 18 months.
Her father lives in nearby Otaua.
She loves Kaikohe, saying the town is full of love and support outsiders rarely rarely see because of the "dumb things" that happen in town.
Her dream is to come home after her studies and work with youth, hopefully inspiring them as she has been by speakers visiting her school. Her other great inspiration is her mother. "I hope she's proud of me. I think she is."
Shania was Northland College's proxime accessit (runner-up dux) for 2013 and won four scholarships, including Waikato University's Northland Future Leaders Scholarship and the school's Lucas Scholarship. Her strengths include performing arts, maths, English and media studies.
She is also a keen boxer and teaches novice fighters weekday mornings at Kaikohe's Te Mira Gym.
By Shania Howard
Just because we're from Northland College, people will perceive
We're too busy getting wasted to highly achieve.
Just a bunch of Maoris getting effed up every day,
Just another generation that's drinking life away.
Lining up at social welfare, 10 kids outside,
Trying to hustle up some money to go home and get high.
Nothing in our cupboards, no food for our kids to eat.
Sitting in the corner with our hands up in defeat.
This will not be our future; of this I'm absolute,
We are more than expectations of close-minded men in suits.
Just because we're from Northland College, it doesn't have to mean,
We have to bow down to people who try to crush our dreams.
Ko au ko toku ahurea, ko toku ahurea ko au
I am my culture and this is what I know.
Our culture is our strength and this cannot be denied,
Will not be hidden and will not be defied.
No we cannot let anybody dictate who we need to be,
Show the world our talents and set your passions free.
Don't let your aspirations be silenced, stand up and make a noise,
Show the critics what we're made of, because God gave you a voice.
He gave us minds, souls; yes he gave us heart,
He gave us all the strength to rip prejudice apart.
Open yourself up, let your mind be awoken,
Defy the statistics; let the truth be spoken, about us.
Let's all have dreams, goals and aspirations,
Because if we have these it's not a waste of your creation.
There is a burning fire; it's inside of us all,
One day it will show itself when we find out what it's for.
United we will rise, divided we will fall,
Together we will march, alone we will crawl.
Lead this school to glory, go get what is yours,
Go out into this world; break down all the closed doors.
Hear the strong beat of our hearts, the thumping blood in our veins,
See our flags flying high as we lead a future of change.
Hold tight to our traditions, but defy limitations,
Leave a legacy of glory for our generation.
As we walk through those gates for the very last time,
See a vision of a future where we will all shine.
Brown brother, brown sister, brown mother, brown mister,
We can be famous without putting our fist up.
Because we're from Northland College, critics will now see,
We will not be defeated because we will succeed.
Community, unity, you and me,
We will succeed.