Ezekiel Raui is only 18 years old but he has already helped kickstart a youth-focused peer support programme, established a leadership academy at his former school and has met United States President Barack Obama.

Now, the young Northland man and former head boy of Taipa Area School is a finalist in the Young Achievers category of the inaugural Matariki Awards.

Mr Raui, who is studying business at Massey University, was in Rotorua for the World Indigenous Suicide Prevention Conference when he spoke to the Advocate this week. He said he was "humbled" to be a finalist in the Matariki Awards.

"I definitely don't do everything I do for awards, but I would lying if I say it isn't nice to to get credit or to be recognised. It's amazing and very humbling," he said.


Mr Raui said he could not think of many projects he was involved with that did not focus on youth.

"My passion came from seeing my peers stereotyped. They would say 'we won't do that because we are Maori. We'll just stay on the dole and that's where we will spend our lives'. I was different, I was the kid that the teachers loved and I always used my position to ensure I can support my peers," he said.

In his last year at Taipa Area School Mr Raui established a leadership academy. He said it was based on cognitive skills and skills that focused on personal qualities, habits and attitudes. He said it was all about public speaking and implementing the importance of having a voice.

"I consider them life skills. I had designed it thinking we wouldn't get many people signing up and I had got sponsorship from organisations. We ended up with 30 students - it was designed for five, and we ended up with 16 students graduating," he said.

Mr Raui has also helped kickstart Tu Kotahi, a peer-support programme led by young people.

"That idea came to mind just before Mike King visited our school. We had these people coming in and talking to us, boosting our confidence and then we wouldn't see them again."

The programme has been developed over three years and like-minded people have joined in. He said the plan was to have it rolled out nationally in schools next year.

Mr Raui was also one of four young Maori leaders who took part in the first White House United National Indian Tribal Youth (UNITY) conference last year where he met President Obama.

Juggling so many projects comes down to Mr Raui's work ethic which he credits to his family.

"As my dad would say, everything starts at home. People might think the things I do are pretty cool but when I go home I still mow the lawns and I still do the dishes. We didn't have everything growing up but my parents always taught us everything they could."

Meanwhile artist Lisa Reihana, of Ngati Tu, Ngati Hine and Ngapuhi descent, is also a finalist in the Arts and Entertainment category of the Matariki Awards.