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When Derek Lardelli kneels before the ceremonial sword of Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy, he will carry with him the achievements of many more than one.

The composer of All Blacks' haka Kapa O Pango is one of five new knights and dames announced in today's Queen's Birthday honours.

Lardelli has been recognised for his services to Māori arts. The 59-year-old professor is one of the country's finest tā moko designers, a carver, composer, visual artist, graphic designer, educationalist and kapa haka champion.

He is a powerful voice for Māori arts here and overseas and his work can be found in national and international institutions, public buildings and private collections.

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His latest honour was unexpected, Lardelli said.

"I don't expect to get awards for what I do. But it's a wonderful feeling."

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But as with all recognition he received, the honour will not be his alone.

"I feel quite humbled by this - well, my whole family, really, because they're part and parcel with what I do. Without them there is no Derek Lardelli art.

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"Whānau. And that's whānau whānui, the extended family, which is the whole of the Tairāwhiti region, and in fact Māoridom, because the award recognises first and foremost Māori and Māori art."

Māori art was no longer solely "an area of study", he said.

"It's a lifelong expression of who you are. We're Māori artists and it recognises that, so that's the purpose, to accept it on behalf of all Māori artists. Those struggling today, and those who have passed on … it belongs to everybody."

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TJ Perenara leads the All Blacks in their Kapa-o-pango haka against the Wallabies last year. Photo / Cameron Spencer / Getty Images
TJ Perenara leads the All Blacks in their Kapa-o-pango haka against the Wallabies last year. Photo / Cameron Spencer / Getty Images

Kapa O Pango might be the most well-known of the many haka he had written, but today's honour was a reflection of all his work - not just one performed by the famous men in black.

"To take one part out of it would ruin the painting. It's a pretty big canvas and I enjoy painting and looking at the whole perspective of the art piece, instead of dealing with a little bit in the corner."

Kapa O Pango was part of the whole kapa haka movement, which was huge at the moment, he said.

"And if we reflect back we find there's a culture that's been using kapa haka as a form of expression for a thousand years, or more. So it's part and parcel of the big picture."

Lardelli, who lives in Gisborne-Tūranganui-a-Kiwa and is Ngāti Porou and Rongowhakaata, was happy to celebrate his success.

It was important to do so, he said.

"Succeeding and celebrating is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing. So keep celebrating your wins, because it becomes a habit, and you begin to win."

It was "up to you" to define what a win was, a message he was especially diligent about sharing with the young.

"One of our jobs is to help young people celebrate their successes, as small as they may be to some, for them it's huge."

It's important to celebrate success, Derek Lardelli says. He's pictured receiving the Te Tohu Kaitiaki Tikanga Puoru, at Waiata Māori Music Awards in 2018. File photo / Duncan Brown
It's important to celebrate success, Derek Lardelli says. He's pictured receiving the Te Tohu Kaitiaki Tikanga Puoru, at Waiata Māori Music Awards in 2018. File photo / Duncan Brown

It was especially important in tough times, too - like when the world was fighting a deadly new virus.

Art had a role to play, Lardelli said.

"We've had our oxygen taken out of our lungs and one of the ways to recuperate is through art."

He had seen creative people use technology to share their work with those in need, "touching them with their song, their laugh and their creative energy".

"It's hugely uplifting. It nourishes the soul and it's an important part of who we are as human beings, so the theme going forward is to keep focusing on that."