Māori artist takes kaupapa to officialise the name 'Aotearoa' on the road

Māori artist Hohepa Thompson - also known as 'Hori' - is making a statement.

He wants to officialise the name 'Aotearoa'. It's a kaupapa he's taking on the road on what he's called the 'Hori's Pledge' tour.

His wero "This Is Aotearoa" is aimed at lobby group Hobson's Pledge - a kaupapa that opposes rights guaranteed to Māori under the treaty. 

"When you look at Hobson's pledge, you just have to look on the website, look on the social media and everything. Every single thing they say, every single post, pretty much what they say is anti-Māori," Thompson told The Hui.

It's a touchy subject, but Thompson is determined his kaupapa will help to create greater understanding.

"What we're doing is trying to offer people more mātauranga around the word 'Aotearoa' and the fact that we're not trying to rename New Zealand at all," Thompson said. 

Thompson is a hearty Māori and it shows through his artwork. 

"A lot of the work we work on, you know, it is on kaupapa Māori and issues that affect our people."

Raised in Ōtaki on the Kāpiti Coast, the 37-year-old said he was born into te ao Māori.

"Growing up, I was raised with te reo Māori me ōna tikanga. And as I kind of went into high school, I decided to kind of stop that side of me puta tērā ki te taha right over the side and decided to leave that world and follow a more Pākehā ao and go down that world," Thompson said.

The reason behind that was he didn't think he could get a job knowing Te Reo.

It's a move that would end up causing heartache.

"It's the biggest regret I've made in my life," he said.

"It wasn't until I actually went overseas and met different cultures and people from all around the world that I realised that the best thing about me was actually that I was Māori."

Hohepa Thompson.
Hohepa Thompson. Photo credit: The Hui

After spending five years overseas, in 2011, Thompson returned to Ōtaki.

"I decided to start Hori, and that was 10 years ago, and now this is where I am."

Te Whare Toi o Hori is where you'll find Thompson.

"To be able to live here, work here with our mahi toi ... it's how I see our tupuna would have loved to see."

Honouring the hopes and aspirations of his tupuna is what led Thompson to create his latest art collection This Is Aotearoa.

"It's about showing people what cancel culture looks like and giving them a shoe on the other foot whakaaro around it. Where we would take Pākeha names or Pākeha people out of history," he said. 

He believed it definitely caused an uproar among people who disagree with him.

"Doing this is showing people, can you imagine if we started crossing out those names from our history and showing them an example of that happening," he said.

"It's trying to put the conversation back into their side of the court and ask those questions, imagine if that happened to you? Imagine if someone just turned up to your house and said, 'You know what, you no longer live here - we live here now, scoot', which is pretty much what happened to our country."

To set the record straight, Thompson set off to travel around the North Island with a message. The billboard labelled 'This Is Aotearoa' hopes to raise awareness and potentially spark conversations among whānau.

"I hope to actually at some point be able to sit down, whether it's with [Don] Brash or anyone else there that may come and talk to me and actually give them that lense and give them that mātauranga," Thompson said.

As the leader of Hobson's Pledge, Brash was given the chance to speak about free speech at Massey University.

Brash's kо̄rero touched on various kaupapa, including Three Waters, the Treaty of Waitangi, Hobson's Pledge, and mātauranga Māori.

Thompson had the chance to ask Brash if he knew what 'mātauranga' meant. Brash said he had a "very limited" knowledge on what it meant.

"You say on Hobson's Pledge it is through knowledge and understanding that we can move forward as one. I find that a little contradicting as you have no knowledge and no understanding of mātauranga Māori," Thompson said.

Later, Thompson said it was "very expected" what Brash would say.

"I asked him a question, what is mātauranga Māori and what does it mean, and he couldn't answer it," he said.

"It's concerning only because of the platform that he has, and there are probably a lot of people who agree. Again, they are probably people who have no understanding of our world."

It's something that Thompson is committed to doing and it's through his mahi toi that he said it'll be achieved.

"I can see things from each side's perspective and with my work, I try to offer that to give. The people that are viewing the artwork give some context into why we think the way we do and why Pākehā might not understand that. So it's kind of bridging the gap between those two worlds."

The kо̄rero on whether or not the official name of our country should change is still ongoing.

"I hope, in my lifetime, I get to see that happen. And I'm confident that that will happen. And we can also remember the history of that time when in Aotearoa, we called it New Zealand. You know, we can still whakamana that."

Made with support from Te Māngai Pāho and the Public Interest Journalism Fund.