A head boy's stirring speech about racism in New Zealand has won him first place in the national final of the 2016 Race Unity Speech Awards in Auckland.

The awards were initiated by the Baha'i community in 2001, following the death of race relations activist Hedi Moani.

In his speech on Saturday, Te Ariki Te Puni of Palmerston North Boys High School challenged New Zealanders to reflect on the true meaning of the country's national anthem and urged people to stand in solidarity against racism rather than be bystanders.

Te Ariki was one of 150 students, in regional heats around the country, who spoke on the subject of racism in New Zealand and the need for people to stand together in race unity.


"What kind of country are we? What do we stand for?" he asked.

"We proudly stand hand on heart and recite the words.... 'God of Nations at thy feet, in the bonds of love we meet...'

"Yet, only last year, a professional Fijian rugby player left the field in tears after being racially taunted and verbally abused by a NZ spectator."

Te Ariki challenged people to "stand up for racial unity and build a country of rich diversity" rather than "sit by silently and watch it dissipate."

Following his speech, nine students from Palmerston North Boys High shook the hall with a haka.

Te Ariki's win earned him $1000, as well as $1000 for his school.

The runner-up, Polaiu'amea Kirifi, of Francis Douglas Memorial College in New Plymouth, won $750 as well as the same amount for his school.

Several of the finalists spoke about their own experiences of racism in New Zealand.

Immediately before the national final, an all-day conference was attended by the finalists and semifinalists, their supporters, and other interested youth and adults.

It included presentations on the kaupapa of race unity, artistic workshops and practical discussions of how young people could transform race relations in New Zealand.