Jennifer Ward-Lealand Te Atamira has been named the 2020 Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year.
Ms Ward-Lealand received the award from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and was presented the Kiwibank kaitaka huaki cloak, Pouhine, by 2019 New Zealander of the Year Mike King.
Throughout her 40-year career as an actress and director, Ms Ward-Lealand has amassed an extraordinary body of work, elevating the significance of the performing arts industry in New Zealand, according to the judges.
She is also an advocate for the rights and wellbeing of workers and her leadership has helped create a safer and more representative performing arts industry, working as a mentor to emerging actors, filmmakers and writers.
In addition, Ms Ward-Lealand has dedicated her life to Te Reo Māori me ōna tikanga. Her leadership has inspired many to integrate the language into everyday life, and increased its use among New Zealand film and theatre for more than a decade, the judges said.
In her acceptance speech, Ms Ward-Lealand said she was overwhelmed and “truly honoured and humbled” to be chosen.
She honoured and saluted her fellow finalists, neonatologist, professor Jane Harding and Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck.
“New Zealand is a better place because of your extraordinary work,” she said.
Ms Ward-Lealand also acknowledged her fellow performers who had “committed to the profession" and ”whose wit, empathy, creativity and bravery inspires me every day”.
She paid tribute to her family who she said valued the arts, service, teaching and who “work and come from a place of integrity”.
Ms Ward-Lealand was gifted the name Te Atamira (The Stage) by Sir Tīmoti Kāretu and the late Dr Te Wharehuia Milroy for her championing of te reo throughout the performing arts community.
New Zealander of the Year patron and former Prime Minister Jim Bolger said Ms Ward-Lealand exemplifies what it means to be a New Zealander.
“Jennifer is an outstanding choice for New Zealander of the Year," he said. "Her devotion to the performing arts sector has profoundly shaped the industry to better look after its people and represent New Zealand more authentically.
“But her positive influence for change extends far beyond performing arts. Her lifetime of volunteering and advocacy for Te Reo Māori me ngā tikanga has helped revitalise the language in New Zealand and has created opportunities for the expression of Māori identity and culture."