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On a quiet road in the bushlands of Te Urewera Forest, I was born in the small house of my namesake, Lena Iraia. Surrounded by family I was raised and attended Minginui Forest School, which was 95% immersed in Maori culture. It was here where I learnt about my people and my identity was formed.

At age 13 we moved to Rotorua, and I immersed myself in my high school education and sports.

My first job at 14 was as a motel cleaner and I learnt the value of hard work and responsibility. In my final year at high school I was honoured to be a prefect and as soccer captain, my team and I travelled around America and Mexico playing sports.

At 19 I moved to Hamilton to study for a career in Business and Fashion and in 2011 I graduated with a diploma in Fashion Design.

As my studies ended I was faced with a life changing event that has lead me to my current path. On July 22,  2010 my younger sister was involved in a near fatal accident that transformed her life forever. Two years on I have been blessed to have had the opportunity to care for and contribute towards her recovery, as her caregiver, teacher aide, and legal guardian.

Recently I have been able to seek opportunities to allow me to connect with my Maori heritage, with Miss Aotearoa being my biggest culturally enriching journey in life thus far.

My name is Marlena Martin and I am proud to be a New Zealander with the blood of my Maori people running through my veins.

Go to the Features section to see previous profiles.