Our hero: Ellen Norman wins 2019 Kiwibank Local Hero award

19 Dec, 2018

Kāore te kumara e kōrero ana mō tōna ake reka. The kumara does not say how sweet it is.

When Mental Health Foundation (MHF) Māori development manager Ellen Norman was told she had been nominated for a 2019 Kiwibank Local Hero Award, she thought it was a hoax.

“I couldn’t believe it, I thought they had it wrong. I still don’t know who nominated me, but I am extremely humbled to be honoured in this way.”

Ellen has a proud whakapapa which connects her to all Muriwhenua Iwi in the Far North. She is a contemporary Māori leader and has been recognised as part of the Te Rau Matatini 100 Māori Leaders which identifies leaders who influence and contribute to Māori health and wellbeing. 

Ellen started her career in mental health in South Auckland in the 1990s and was proactive in transforming mental health services for Māori.

“I walked alongside our people, side by side to understand what mattered to them. In those early years I filled my kete with skills, knowledge and experience across regional and national Māori health.”

Ellen later moved home to Te Hiku o te Ika where she led mental health and addiction services for a decade. It was during this time that she sustained the passion and aroha for her people by doing what she could, when she could.

“It has always been a privilege to listen to and awhi our people in their times of need. I often just sit and be with whānau so I can hear their stories and understand how to best tautoko them.”

Although Ellen now lives in Tāmaki Makaurau to carry out her mahi as the MHF’s Māori development manager, she often returns home, to keep connected and re-energise herself with the whenua and moana.

“I love to take back new resources, knowledge and stories from across the motu to share with whānau to help enhance their mental wellbeing.”

Ellen took her mum and tane along to the offical Kiwibank medal presentation ceremony which was held at the Northland Events Centre in Whangarei.

“My mum and my tane have been hugely supportive of my work – they remind me why I do what I do and allow me the time and space to do it – when I’m tired they lift me and give me the strength to keep going.”

Ellen says recieving the Kiwibank local hero award is recognition, not just of her, but of her whānau and people.

“It’s really about honouring those I work alongside, who trust me to do what I do - acknowledging their strength and mana.”

This year, 322 medals will be presented nationwide with one New Zealand Local Hero of the Year winner announced at the New Zealander of the Year Awards Gala in February 2019.