1 Mar 2021

New Zealand Local Hero of the Year - Te Pou Toko o Te Tau
New Zealand Local Hero of the Year - Te Pou Toko o Te Tau

The Kiwibank New Zealand Local Hero of the Year Award – Te Pou Toko o te Tau recognises everyday people doing extraordinary things in their local hapori - communities over the past year. This award acknowledges the enormous contribution, sacrifice and commitment of Kiwi who have selflessly worked to make their local hapori - communities a better place.

Meet our 3 finalists.

Aigagalefili (Fili) Fepulea'i-Tapua'i (Auckland Tāmaki Makaurau)


At just 17 years old, Aigagalefili (Fili) Fepulea'i-Tapua'i already has many strings to her bow: she was head girl of Aorere College in Papatoetoe, a published poet and renowned orator, and a passionate and determined climate activist. She is a co-founder of 4 Tha Kulture, an indigenous environmental activist group that worked alongside the School Strike for Climate in 2019, and in 2020 has petitioned the government for a green response to Covid-19 that would prioritise a renewable economy and meaningful partnerships with communities, tangata whenua and Pasifika. The effects of Covid-19 have exacerbated existing inequalities in our society, and Fili has been vocal about the realities of this, explaining to the media that hundreds of students sacrifice their schooling in order to seek employment and help support their families and that the situation is only worsening. In 2019 Fili won the Storytellers New Zealand High School Public Speaking competition, and in 2020 was selected as the New Zealand representative at the Global Young Leaders Conference in New York.

Mataio (Matt) Brown (Christchurch Ōtautahi)

Matt Brown

Mataio (Matt) Brown's chain of Christchurch and Manawatū barbershops, My Fathers Barbers, are places for men to get their hair cut or beard trimmed, but also safe spaces for men to foster vulnerability, healing, and connection. Matt facilitates regular free group therapy sessions for men with guest speakers, therapists, community and support, an antidote to toxic masculinity at his barbershops.

Matt utilises his business and social media platforms in many ways to support local community causes and in March 2019, became a fundraising hub of supplies and funds for the Muslim community following the Christchurch Mosque tragedy.

Matt is a survivor of family violence and childhood sexual abuse and shares his story via a barbering program he created inside Christchurch Men's Prison, Te Puna Wai O Tuhinapo. He continues to volunteer alongside Corrections NZ as a patron.

Matt regularly offers free haircuts to members of the Christchurch City Mission community and partners with domestic-violence charities to encourage the notion of violence-free communities. In 2018 Matt partnered with the Ministry of Social Development for the 'It's not OK campaign' to increase awareness about the role of barbers in creating safe spaces for men, and has held wānanga at marae all over the country with a kaupapa of talking about men's mental health, suicide, and family violence.

Along with his wife Sarah, Matt started a global movement 'She is Not Your Rehab', whose mission is to reframe the narrative around abusive relationships, domestic violence, and unhealthy masculinity ideals in a confronting but empathetic way. Matt says the movement and all their content shared is an invitation for men to acknowledge their own childhood trauma and to take responsibility for their healing instead of transmitting it on those around them.

Shannon Te Huia (Waikato)


In 2015 Shannon Te Huia established Pūniu River Care, an iwi-based initiative that aims to improve water quality and biodiversity by planting trees along the banks of the 60-kilometre-long Pūniu River in the Waikato region. The organisation is completely rooted in te ao Māori, and alongside delivering solid, quantifiable results for environmental indicators, it has an equally strong focus on cultural, academic and vocational training: a holistic approach that improves the health and wellbeing of the environment as well as the strength, capacity and mana of its people. To begin, Pūniu River Care initiated a specialist horticultural course through Wintec so that local people could become experts in native plants. It now has more than 30 local people running a 2.5-hectare marae-based nursery that produces 500,000 plants each year. Hundreds more people have learnt from their holistic model at wānanga, community events and marae open days, where Shannon and the team openly share their knowledge and actively help other organisations become established. Pūniu River Care collaborates with a diverse range of organisations, including the Department of Corrections prisoner training programmes, schools, iwi, community groups and research organisations.

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