Microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles, who garnered global prominence over the past year as she helped New Zealand navigate the Covid-19 pandemic better than most other nations, has tonight been announced as the Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year.
Wiles received the award from Jacinda Ardern, and was presented the Kiwibank kaitaka huaki cloak, Pouhine, by 2020 New Zealander of the Year Jennifer Te Atamira Ward-Lealand.
As she received her award, Wiles said she guessed she was the “public face of the pandemic for New Zealand”.
She said she was used to being called the “Covid lady”.
“But actually, you know, I’m hyper-visible but we got here because of all of us.
“And we got here especially because of the invisible thousands and thousands of people, our essential workers, our contact-tracers, our testing people, all of those people, thousands and thousands of people who we don’t know who they are – we got here because of them,” Wiles said.
She also paid tribute to the families who supported those essential workers – including her own family, husband and daughter.
Wiles also thanked her lab, students and technicians who “shared” her and “tolerated” her not being around.
“We did it together and that’s how we are going to get through every challenge we face.”
Wiles heads up the Bioluminescent Superbugs Lab at the University of Auckland, where she and her team make bacteria glow in the dark to understand how infectious microbes make people sick, and to find new antibiotics.
“The Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year Awards Ngā Tohu Pou Kōhure o Aotearoa celebrate people who use their passion to make our country a better place, and Dr Siouxsie Wiles undeniably fits the bill,” said awards patron Miriama Kamo.
“While New Zealand collectively locked down, she stepped up – helping millions globally see past the fear and complexities of the pandemic. Her work provided support, strength and clarity across New Zealand and beyond, representing our country on a world stage and helping to keep us safe.
“Outside of the pandemic, she is a passionate and influential leader in her industry. Her willingness to break down barriers has opened doors for women in science, and her pioneering work in bioluminescence is redefining modern medicine.”
Wiles was one of three finalists for the main award, the others being Christchurch Muslim community leader Farid Ahmed and Ranjna Patel, who has worked to help domestic violence offenders.
Five other winners in separate sub-categories were also announced this evening:
University of Canterbury Young New Zealander of the Year Te Mātātahi o te Tau: Jazz Thornton, co-founder of Voices of Hope and mental health advocate (Auckland).
Thornton has written two books and produced multiple films. Most recently she received the Commonwealth Points of Light award from Queen Elizabeth for her work in mental health advocacy.
Thornton, upon receiving her award said she was proud New Zealand is “choosing to take mental health seriously, a country that is choosing to not accept our suicide statistics — is overwhelming".
“I know that my younger teenage self is so thankful for this,” she said.
Ryman Healthcare Senior New Zealander of the Year Te Mātāpuputu o te Tau: Dr Doug Wilson, medical academic and author (Taupō).
Wilson, 70, has built an international career as a medical academic, becoming the first US and then global head of medical research for a major international pharmaceutical company. He is a skilled science communicator and leading expert on aging.
Wilson said upon accepting his award that older people are never “past it”.
“Importantly, the young and the old have to talk together because that’s our future. We’ve heard the wonderful younger people here tonight speaking absolutely dazzling, for someone like me – an old coot sitting down there watching what goes on.
“That’s what it’s all about. The future is talking together. The future is getting together. The future is recognising the old people are not past it but the old people have themselves to learn to contribute.”
Trade Me New Zealand Innovator of the Year Te Pou Whakairo o te Tau: Ranjna Patel QSM, JP, founder and director of Tāmaki Health and domestic violence prevention campaigner (Auckland).
Patel is a respected businesswoman in health as well as a social innovator.
After police saw an increase in family violence in the south Asian community in 2013, they asked Patel for assistance. After conducting significant research, she has since been recognised for her outstanding work in finding solutions in this area.
Patel said she was amazed at the support her work has received.
“If we as a society can be more proactive than reactive to problems, I think we would go very far.”
Mitre 10 New Zealand Community of the Year Ngā Pou Whirinaki o te Tau: Christchurch Mosque Victims Group, supporting people and victims affected by the Christchurch mosque attacks (Christchurch).
The award prompted a standing ovation from the crowd.
Spokesperson for the group Maha Galal thanked “all New Zealander’s”, on behalf of the March 15th victims and the Muslim community, for the support the country gave for the community to “move on”.
Kiwibank New Zealand Local Hero of the Year Te Pou Toko o te Tau: Shannon Te Huia, environmental engineer at Waka Huia Limited and founder of Pūniu River Care (Waikato).
Te Huia said “safe places, healthy water and healthy people" are "the vision of Pūniu River Care and that’s why it’s so important".
He said the award was an accomplishment of “more than just one”.
He said he is “pretty” excited about the future of Aotearoa.
“When New Zealander’s put their minds to something we do it really, really well,” he said.
“I’m just really excited to see, you know, some of the people that are using the land and our farmers really redesigning some of their systems so that we can both have a cleaner environment with a good industry, a good economy,” he said.