This Waitangi Day, we asked illustrators from across Aotearoa to draw what they think about on February 6th. Their images speak of resilience, courage, tenacity and communication. Here, we share their illustrations along with their thoughts on our national day.

Tokerau Wilson illustration

Tokerau Wilson - @bigfatraro

As people of the Pacific we navigate the many different layers of past and present and uncover our own hidden or suppressed histories in order to grow. Mangaian full-head masks were used at festivals to depict ancient gods and brave historical figures. They were suppressed by missionaries and eventually fell out of use.

What do you think about on Waitangi Day?

I think about the amazing patience and respectfulness and resilience Māori have, most recently shown with the land situation at Ihumatāo. I think about how Aotearoa needs to acknowledge all of the wrongs that have been done since signing Te Tiriti O Waitangi. Because exposing these hurts can lead to healing them. 

I think about the Crown making agreements that weren’t kept. I wonder how different it could be if Māori philosophy and practises were more fully integrated into everyday daily life. 

The main thing holding that back is the ongoing ignorance around the language. I know that being bilingual is proven to increase brain function and cognition, everyone should go for it and learn our local languages. Learn Māori, then learn Samoan, Tongan, Fijian and as much as you can. It’s normal, people in Europe often speak several languages!

Has the way you think about Waitangi Day changed over the course of your life? 

I grew up in Whanganui, a Cook Island Māori/European boy. The Treaty was as misunderstood then as it is now. There was a lot of resentment and anger towards Māori having control over decisions to do with tribal lands and the Whanganui river. It trickled down to my young ears as a lot of blaming Māori for anything that went wrong in the small town. 

"Bloody Māoris" was a common thing to hear right up to the late 90s, and I really feel the effects of that on my psyche to this day. In recent years I still hear the same thing when i visit Whanganui, but mainly from older generations. A common revamp is "I’m not racist but..." 

I think that level of racism will die out as newer generations are hopefully becoming more informed. We still need to give Pacific peoples more platforms to have a voice and represent. For Pasifika and Māori, it's our time to shine. 

What do you hope for the future when it comes to how our country commemorates our history?

I hope the true history of Aotearoa is taught as accurately as possible. I hope Māori values such as caring for family, community and respecting our natural resources is integrated more fully into everyday society. The lack of respect and ignorance around different lifestyles stems from a lack of understanding around our own stories. 

Constant pressure to fit European models leads to many of the problems Māori and Pasifika face today, because it erases our voices and ways. The new impetus to change school curriculum is important, it acknowledges the previous suppression of Māori history and manipulation of colonist themes. Through education and integration the veil of ignorance can be lifted.

 

Jess Zee illustration

Jess Zee - @controlzee_

What do you think about on Waitangi Day?

I think it's an important day that acknowledges New Zealand history and how we can celebrate the nation now as a community under the same sun.

Has the way you think about Waitangi Day changed over the course of your life? 

When I was back at my secondary school my thoughts always wandered to the free holiday I was getting in the middle of the school week, where I could stay home and watch cartoon VHS tapes all day. 

But now as I grew into an adult, I've gained a new view on how people see this day, I've learnt to acknowledge that its history has been unbalanced when taught in school and it's understandable how people have mixed feelings about Waitangi Day.

What do you hope for the future when it comes to how our country commemorates our history?

Another holiday to celebrate New Zealand history I think it would be a good step in the right direction, and also communication on the ever-growing internet is essential to keep our thoughts and history alive as proud New Zealanders.

 

Huriana Kopeke Te Aho illustration

Huriana Kopeke-Te Aho - @hurianakt.a

What do you think about on Waitangi Day?

I think a lot about my tūpuna, and their courage and tenacity in the face of unspeakable loss, I think about many members of my family who have and continue to dedicate their lives to the struggle for tino rangatiratanga, and the many generations of Māori activists who fought for the rights we have now. It's also a time to reflect on the future as well, the generations that will come after us, and making sure that we continue to try and preserve the rights that so many of us have fought for, so that they can live in a world that allows them to be free, safe and happy. For me, Waitangi Day is a day of remembrance and reflection, rather than a celebration.

Has the way you think about Waitangi Day changed over the course of your life? 

The major difference is that I think I now have a deeper understanding of what the Treaty meant for us as a people. In saying that, my mum was always determined to give us a political education, so I think I'm lucky in that sense, we never fully accepted the narratives that we were taught in school about our history. 

What do you hope for the future when it comes to how our country commemorates our history?

I think I'd like to see more honesty, more space for political discussion around issues that are important to all of us. Protest has always been an important part of Waitangi Day celebrations and while I think that it is important to celebrate our progress, we still have a long way to go. 



Virginia Ngaio illustration

Virginia Ngaio - @virginia.ngaio

What do you think about on Waitangi Day?

On Waitangi Day, I find myself thinking about the present-day status of the Treaty. While at law school at Victoria University a few years back I took Dr Carwyn Jones’ fantastic ‘Special Topic: Treaty of Waitangi’ paper one summer. I feel embarrassed to admit that this was the first time I seriously studied the Treaty and thought about its place in today’s society. 

So, perhaps unsurprisingly, I think a lot about the legal status of the Treaty, about the principles of the Treaty that the Courts now consider (rather than the specific words of either version), and about how this will develop in the future.

Has the way you think about Waitangi Day changed over the course of your life? 

The way I think about Waitangi Day has definitely changed over the course of my life! I don’t think I properly acknowledged what the day was about when I was younger, or really understood it - it was just a day off school.  Now I engage with it as much more than just a public holiday. 

I (for the most part) enjoy the dialogue that Waitangi Day makes us have every year - we’re always going to be growing and developing as a nation and I think it is important to reflect on our development, on what we’re doing well and on what we can do better. My stomach tends to drop a bit when I see some of the more hate-mongering opinion pieces that pop up but I am hopeful that the more positive, forward-thinking dialogue we have about the role of the Treaty the less uninformed vitriol we’ll see rearing its head. 

What do you hope for the future when it comes to how our country commemorates our history?

I am hopeful that in the future we’ll take pride in celebrating our history. That we’ll be able reflect on the injustices that have taken place and also on what has been done to address and remedy those injustices. There are some pretty shocking moments in our history and we would do well to not ignore or deny these: doing so only prevents us from moving forward as a nation.

There is this wonderful Maya Angelou quote which beautifully expresses how I hope we will move towards commemorating our history as a nation: “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again”. 

I hope that over the next few years we can continue to acknowledge and confront that wrenching pain, continue to heal it, and continue to move forward as a nation with the warmth, maturity, knowledge and strength of community that truly reflects the people we want to be. I hope that we are making history now that we will be proud to look back on in the years to come.

 

Jessica Thompson Carr illustration

Jessica Thompson Carr - @maori_mermaid

What do you think about on Waitangi Day?

I think about deceit, the commodifying and tearing apart of Papatūānuku and her children. I think about the initiation of all of this that we now live in. I also think about how old I feel because it’s my birthday. 

Has the way you think about Waitangi Day changed over the course of your life?

Definitely. As a kid, we weren’t taught much in school. It was a public holiday and a dusty memory in a history book. Now I’m older, it’s very present and I understand its effects more and more, the mamae it brings.

What do you hope for the future when it comes to how our country commemorates our history?

More recognition of Māori figures of history and respect for what has been lost, held with the same (if not more) gravitas. We need more of an awareness of how Tangata Whenua are living and being treated as a result of the Treaty, and the events that followed its signing, then take steps to improve conditions and unite each other. 

We honour our ancestors and history by doing what is right for our people.