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Source: New Zealander of the Year Awards

Actress and te reo Māori me ngā tikanga advocate Jennifer Ward-Lealand Te Atamira has been named 2020 Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year.

Ward-Lealand received the award from the Prime Minister, the Rt Hon. Jacinda Ardern, and was presented the Kiwibank kaitaka huaki cloak, Pouhine, by 2019 New Zealander of the Year Mike King.

Ward-Lealand has amassed an extraordinary body of work throughout her 40-year career as an actress and director, elevating the significance of the performing arts industry in New Zealand.

She is a tireless advocate for the rights and wellbeing of workers and her leadership has helped create a safer and more representative performing arts industry.

Ward-Lealand has also 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.

Ward-Lealand’s fellow finalists for the title of Kiwibank 2020 New Zealander of the Year were Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck and neonatologist Professor Jane Harding.

Comment from New Zealander of the Year patron, Rt Hon. Jim Bolger:

“Jennifer is an outstanding choice for New Zealander of the Year. 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 reoMāori me ngā tikanga has helped revitalise the language in New Zealand and has created opportunities for the expression of Māori identity and culture.  

“A living legend and a role model. Jennifer exemplifies what it means to be a New Zealander. She is truly an inspiration to us all.”

Category Winners

University of Auckland Young New Zealander of the Year: Georgia Hale (Auckland)
Ryman Healthcare Senior New Zealander of the Year: Dame Margaret Sparrow (Wellington)
Mitre 10 Community of the Year: Good Bitches Baking (national)
Trademe Innovator of the Year: Bill Buckley – Buckley Systems Ltd (Auckland)
Kiwibank Local Hero of the Year: Nick Loosley (Auckland)


The annual New Zealander of the Year Awards are in their 11th year. The awards are a celebration of Kiwis that are passionate and committed to making New Zealand a better place to live for everyone. The awards encourage all New Zealanders to honour extraordinary Kiwis whose selflessness, creativity, and vision make us proud to call New Zealand home.

A total of 969 nominations were received for the 2020 Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year Award.

Previous winners of the New Zealander of the Year award are: Mike King (2019), Kristine Bartlett (2018), Taika Waititi (2017), Richie McCaw (2016), Sir Stephen Tindall (2015), Dr Lance O’Sullivan (2014), Dame Anne Salmond (2013), Sir Richard Taylor (2012), Sir Paul Callaghan (2011) and Sir Ray Avery (2010).