Why Hinerangi Harawira-Nicholas, 16, is about to become Matariki's biggest star

By Aroha Awarau of RNZ

At just 16, Hinerangi Harawira-Nicholas is already making a name for herself in public speaking, sport and acting.

Last week the Tūhoe teenager made her big screen debut in new Māori-led film Ka Whawhai Tonu, alongside Temuera Morrison, Cliff Curtis and Miriama Smith.

Ka Whawhai Tonu is a te reo Māori film inspired by the battle of Ōrākau, a conflict that took place in the Waikato region 160 years ago during a nationwide confiscation of Māori land.

Harawira-Nicholas nabbed one of the main roles in the film thanks to her fluency in Māori and her whānau connection to the film's director, Mike Jonathan.

"Mike is friends with my whānau and he knew that I fit the description of the role. He asked for me to audition, and I got the part," she says.

"It was nerve-wracking being in a film and having to learn lines. But I got to work with people like Temuera Morrison, and they helped me. When I went to the premiere and saw my name up on the big screen, I felt pretty famous."

Harawira-Nicholas shone at the international premiere in Sydney wearing a korowai (traditional Māori cloak) that had belonged to her mother, Hana Harawira.

Even though her mother died of cancer when Harawira-Nicholas was six years old, the teenager says she felt her presence at the premiere.

"My mother is the reason why I'm so driven. She's been my inspiration. She encouraged me to achieve. By wearing her korowai at the premiere, it was like she was part of my experience, and she was looking after me. That's what I wanted," she says.

Even so, she admits she's more comfortable playing rugby at home in Taneatua than posing on the red carpet.

"Going to all of these premieres is very surreal. Being glammed up and wearing heaps of makeup is just not me," Harawira-Nicholas says.

"But I'm here with my whānau, and the friends I made on the film, so it's made it easier."

Harawira-Nicholas says her mother encouraged her to be an overachiever. She's fulfilling her mother's wishes by succeeding on the oratory stage and on the sports field as well as the big screen.

"I play basketball. I made it into the Central North Island team. I play volleyball, and I play women's rugby for Ruatoki."

In September, Harawira-Nicholas will be representing the area of Mataatua at the prestigious annual Manu Korero Speech competitions, in the senior Māori section.

"I will proudly be representing my area at the nationals, and I can't wait."

With so many skills and talents, Hinerangi wants to continue acting but also aims to join the army and teach te reo Māori.

She wants to inspire other Māori youth to have dreams and reach their goals.

"I come from a very small village and I've had all these opportunities and made it to all of these big cities. If you work hard, and put your mind and heart into your mahi, then anyone can do it."