Eight Northlanders are among this year's 100 Kiwibank Local Hero Medallists.
Based on nominations from their respective communities, and selected by regional judges, the medallists have been chosen for taking extraordinary action to better their communities and Aotearoa.
Te Taitokerau medallists include Hone Harawira, Janelle Beazley, Jignal Bhagvandas, Maurice Brownlee, Murdoch Ross, Rereata Mākiha, Simon Trye and Te Warihi Kokowai Hetaraka.
The Northland Age spoke with medallists Janelle Beazley, Murdoch Ross, Simon Trye and Hone Harawira to learn more about the meaningful impact they've had in their communities.
Simon Trye is a crash firefighter for the Royal New Zealand Air Force. At the start of lockdowns last year, Trye learned about an American firefighter raising money by running in his gear in a bid to make the world a better place.
Since then, Trye has been inspired to the do same and has become a well-known runner around Kerikeri, and runs marathons head to toe in full firefighting equipment.
"I'm just an average bloke trying to do my bit for people, the community and the country," Tyre said.
"Everyone can do something. It doesn't take much to make someone else's life better."
Last year, Trye ran a half marathon to support Kids Can, carrying his full equipment and raising $16,000 from individual supporters.
Trye also achieved a Guinness World Record for the unusual acclaim of running the fastest half marathon in a firefighter's uniform and breathing apparatus.
"If we were all just 5 to 10 per cent nicer to everyone, the world would be a much better place," Trye said.
His emphasis on kindness as a simple way to help others is echoed by Janelle Beazley.
The "born, bred and buttered" Whangarei great-grandmother says "we don't have enough kindness in our world at the moment".
With a belief in always doing what you can to make the path easier for those following behind you, Beazley's philosophy is that "if you can, do it and be kind when you do it".
Beazley has been a stalwart figure in local kapa haka for more than 43 years,
volunteering for the Waitangi Cultural Society – the kapa haka committee that manages all kapa haka within Te Taitokerau – for most of her life.
In 2008, she was recognised as a life member of the committee after 30 years of service.
Upon retirement, Beazley went to work for her marae, hapu and iwi, and has been active in the development of a succession plan that will support whānau into the future.
Beazley's belief that we should never stop learning is demonstrated by her recent completion of a Bachelor of Maori Performing Arts degree.
What's most admirable is that she did it with a group of young students, "just to support them on that pathway".
While talking about the diverse ages and ethnicities of people she meets through kapa haka, Beazley said there were more non-Maori participants and that it was part of their culture too.
A similar spirit of inclusivity runs through the work of Murdoch Ross, whose vision and leadership have been central in creating community spaces for learning and growth in Whangarei.
Since the 1980s, Ross has been instrumental in the creation of a new community centre, has spearheaded the building of a new medical centre and encouraged the local community to establish a garden and orchard on Ross family land between the community centre and Parua Bay village.
Ross reminisced about one evening at the community hall, where he regularly worked on the door.
He said he had made sure never to turn anyone away because they would all have something unique to contribute, regardless of their ability to pay a certain amount of money.
One night when he wasn't there, people were turned away and it was the only time cars in the parking lot were broken into.
Ross, 71, is no longer able to walk and has limited speech as a result of cerebral palsy.
His sister, Jennifer Ross, says he was well supported by the Parua Bay community and by his wonderful caregivers, who enabled him to retain his independence and continue living on his own at home.
"Always be your best. Be prepared. Get on committees and do whatever it takes to get it done," Ross said.
Heading to the very Far North is a rangatira, known to the rest of the country as Hone Harawira, but to the people of Te Hiku, he's simply "Papa Hone".
Hone Pani Tamati Waka Nene Harawira was born in Whangarei in 1955 and raised in West Auckland, where he attended St Stephens School, before going on to study at Auckland University.
The father, grandfather, husband and former MP has dedicated his life to serving others and has been involved in everything from Māori and indigenous rights, politics, media, social justice, education, community service, sport and most recently, border control.
Growing up, Harawira attributes his passion to serve others to his mother, Māori activist Titewhai Harawira, who showed him the power of making sure everyone, no matter their background, was comfortable, included and supported.
He said his wife, Hilda, had also been a guiding light in his life and had reinforced his desire to give back to the community's most vulnerable.
"I've always felt that a big sector of our society was voiceless, and what voice they did have was always angry because no one was listening to them," Harawira said.
"There are people living in dire straits, so I believe we have a role to try and change that.
"Things have gotten progressively harder for families, and in times of crisis, such as Covid-19, those already living on the edge or who are marginalised are getting pushed further away."
During his time in politics, Harawira campaigned to make Aotearoa smokefree by 2025, initiated the Feed the Kids campaign, and was involved in other indigenous activities and community development initiatives.
Upon stepping away from politics in 2014, Harawira restarted the Aupōuri Ngāti Kahu Te Rarawa (ANT) Trust and established a formal liaison with the National Urban Maori Authority and Foundation North.
One of the most notable recent initiatives Harawira has embarked on is the Open The Curtains (OTC) programme, which he founded about six years ago.
ANZ Trust and the OTC programme is a kaupapa Māori organisation based in Kaitaia that provides support and services literally to people's doors, opening up pathways for help in the way of housing, food, finance, health, justice and more.
Harawira again cites his wife for the idea behind the programme.
"When Hilda was the principal of our kura, she would send me out to get kids who hadn't turned up for school," he said.
"One time she sent me to a house and when I turned up, I saw the curtains were closed and there was this fellow just lying around doing nothing.
"So I walked in behind him, opened up the curtains, pushed the windows open to let in some fresh air and the sun came flooding into the house.
"I decided at that moment that if I ever got out of politics, I wanted to come and help open the curtains of people's homes and minds."
Kiwibank CEO Steve Jurkovich said there was never a better time to celebrate those who'd made outstanding contributions to the wellbeing of our country.
"It is a real privilege to honour selfless, creative and visionary people that make us proud to call Aotearoa home," Jurkovich said.
"2021 has marked a unique year for Aotearoa. With our borders closed, we've had a rare opportunity to look inwards – focusing our attention on the challenges and opportunities that exist right here on our shores.
"From Kaitaia to Bluff, each of these Kiwibank Local Hero Medallists has gone above and beyond for others – pitching in to feed families affected by lockdowns, rebuilt communities and supported rangatahi.
"They're our frontline workers and our unsung champions working tirelessly for their local hapori – communities."
The Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year semifinalists were announced on Monday, however, none of the eight Northland nominees went further in the awards.
The 2022 Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year Te Pou Whakarae o Aotearoa and supporting category winners will be announced at the New Zealander of the Year Awards gala dinner on March 31 at the Cordis Hotel, Auckland.
For more information go to nzawards.org.nz.