Two Northland women are among a select group of 13 people from around the motu honoured with scholarships presented by the last surviving member of the Māori Battalion at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds yesterday.
The prestigious awards were presented by Tā (Sir) Robert "Bom" Gillies — now aged 97 — along with Victoria Cross recipient Willie Apiata and Associate Education Minister Kelvin Davis.
The Ngarimu VC and 28th (Māori) Battalion Memorial Scholarships recognise Māori in tertiary study or vocational training who exemplify the values of the famed battalion.
Yesterday was the first time the annual awards ceremony took place outside Wellington.
Waitangi was chosen because of its association with the famed battalion, in particular a speech by Sir Apirana Ngata to soldiers leaving for World War II in which he spoke of "the price of freedom".
The Northland scholarship winners were Leigh Albert (Ngāti Hine, Ngāpuhi, Te Whānau-ā-Apanui), a former student of Bay of Islands College and Whangaroa College, and Xena Tautari (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Porou, Te Whānau-ā-Apanui), a former student of Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Hokianga.
Tautari is completing a doctorate in Māori and indigenous studies at Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi.
Her thesis topic is intergenerational changes in tikanga relating to kaitiakitanga (guardianship) of Hokianga-nui-ā-Kupe.
Albert is a platoon sergeant in the New Zealand Army studying for bachelor's degrees in medicine and surgery at the University of Otago.
Every recipient made a speech but Albert's brought many in the audience to tears.
She spoke of enlisting as an army medic without her parents' knowledge and against their wishes — her father had fought in Vietnam so he knew the realities of war — and of her service after the Christchurch earthquake and overseas.
She also spoke of the loss of her father and, shortly afterwards, her partner Wairongoa "Magoo" Renata, who drowned in 2018 trying to save five children, including their then 11-year-old daughter, when they were caught in a rip at Cable Bay.
The award was "beyond humbling", Albert said.
It would help her complete the six-year study and meant she'd be able to buy the medical resources she needed.
"Being a recipient of this scholarship is to remember those before us whose service was marked by hardship. To a certain degree that reflects my own experience in life so far," she said.
The scholarships, which range from $10,000 to $25,000 a year, were presented in Te Whare Rūnanga (the carved meeting house).
Davis, who chairs the Ngārimu VC and 28th (Māori) Battalion Memorial Fund Board, said the winners would reinforce the battalion's legacy and become leaders in years to come.
"These scholarships will go some way to help you build your futures, and the futures of all Māori."
Apiata also gave a heartfelt speech about how the winners made him proud to be Māori. He hoped the scholarships would allow them "to follow their dreams".
This year was the first time the scholarships were extended to vocational training with winners including youth engaged in construction, plumbing and beauty therapy, as well as academic fields such as history, medicine and education.
Earlier in the day a new display was launched at Te Rau Aroha, the Treaty Grounds museum dedicated to Māori sacrifice in war, showcasing past scholarship winners and entries in a video competition for high school students.
It was launched by Hekia Parata, a former Education Minister, as a tribute to her late husband Tā Wira Gardiner.
Gardiner wrote a history of the Māori Battalion's B company and was the 2021 winner of the Manukura Award, the highest award in the annual scholarships.
The Ngārimu VC and 28th (Māori) Battalion Memorial Fund was established in 1948 "to inspire, reward and support Māori education achievement and success".
Moana-Nui-a-Kiwa Ngarimu, after whom the awards are named, was the first Māori to be awarded the Victoria Cross. He died in action in Tunisia in 1943, aged 24.