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NZ Mayor named best young politician in the world

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Far North mayor Moko Tepania was presented with an award naming him one of the world’s top young politicians of 2023.

Tepania, who made history last year when he was elected the youngest and first Māori mayor of the Far North District, is currently at the One Young World summit in Northern Ireland.

The organisation’s Politician of the Year award recognises five outstanding leaders aged 18-35 making a positive impact on youth and encouraging them to become involved in politics.

The judges praised Tepania for the way he used his office and background in teaching to strengthen youth involvement in politics.

He said he felt “blown away” and hugely humbled just to be nominated, let alone making it to the 15-strong shortlist or onto the stage as one of the five winners.

Tepania hoped it would encourage and inspire Northland’s other young leaders to continue their mahi.

Deputy mayor Kelly Stratford said the council, and the district, felt proud and humbled for their kahika (mayor).

“He totally deserves it. Even as mayor he’s still involved with rangatahi in education, and he’s a member of the Mayoral Taskforce for Jobs. He keeps education and helping youth into jobs close to his heart, but also keeping them engaged, inviting them into our spaces, and treating them well so they’ll be interested in local government when they’re older,” Stratford said.

“Everywhere he goes, he tells them, ‘You can be the next mayor’. He deserves this award and I hope he gets a lot out of the experience.”

Stratford said she got to know Tepania during the council’s previous term.

“I immediately liked his drive to get stuff done for our district. He loves the Far North and he loves Kaikohe and the west. We need that, because the west is often forgotten in decision-making spaces.”

The last few weeks have been momentous for Tepania, a Kaikohe-based te reo teacher who has just turned 33 and completed a Master of Education degree with First Class Honours.

His dissertation topic was the use of Maramataka, the Māori lunar calendar, in education.

Tepania also made history in 2019 as the youngest elected member of the Far North District Council, serving one term as a councillor before following his parents’ advice to have a tilt at the mayoralty.

Tepania (Ngāti Kahu ki Whangaroa, Te Rarawa) was raised in Hikurangi, just north of Whangārei.

He considered taking up an apprenticeship as a butcher in Australia, but instead came home and studied teaching, Māori and anthropology at Waikato University.

He taught at Pompallier College in Whangārei before moving to the Far North to teach at Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Kaikohe.

The other winners of this year’s Politician of the Year award hail from Canada, Australia, Belgium and Nepal.

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