Waitangi Day is known to be the national day in New Zealand and commemorates the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, first signed on February 6th in 1840. The treaty was signed by representatives acting on behalf of the British Crown and, initially, about 45 Māori chiefs. The purpose of the Treaty was to enable the British settlers and the Māori people to live together in New Zealand under a common set of laws or agreements. The Treaty aimed to protect the rights of Māori to keep their land, forests, fisheries and treasures while handing over sovereignty to the English. There were two different documents created and signed; one in English and one in the Māori language. The signing had the effect of securing British sovereignty over the islands of New Zealand, which was officially proclaimed on May 21st, 1840. While this is often celebrated as a national holiday where friends and family get together, it is a source of conflict and controversy for the Māori Indigenous to the land because there is a debate over how the two versions are interpreted. The treaty is believed to hold many injustices, that have suppressed the indigenous peoples and have robbed them of their land, cultural identity, and sovereignty, unfairly. Over the years, recognition and acknowledgement of the injustices of the treaty have been raised by Māori members and activists against the crown through protests and other forms of resistance.

We had the chance to sit down with Devon Atawhai Beatson, an Intercultural Peacebuilding Student, and Māori from New Zealand studying at BYU-Hawai’i, to hear about Waitangi Day from her perspective.

We had the chance to sit down with Devon Atawhai Beatson, an Intercultural Peacebuilding Student, and Māori from New Zealand studying at BYU-Hawai’i, to hear about Waitangi Day from her perspective.

Devon’s parents are both half Māori and half European. She was privileged to attend a Māori school as she was growing up. Her grandparents were born in a time where the Māori language was prohibited to speak, therefore her grandparents suppressed their Māori identity, and her parents also experienced the same. When her parents were married and started their family, they felt compelled to “bring back the Māori language for [the] kids and wanted to have the knowledge in the family.” They put her and her siblings through Maori schooling. Through her time in Māori schooling she learned greatly about the injustices against Māori because of colonization. She was also heavily involved in the Māori protesting. She explained to us the difference of the treaties signed on Waitangi Day in 1840; one written in the native Māori language and one in English. “The two versions of the treaty do not mean the same thing. It is international law that dictates the treaty in native language is legal, however the interpretation of the treaty that is used are the English interpretations. In the Māori treaty, it talks about how the Māori would have complete governance over the land. Rangatiratanga, a part of the treaty, in Māori is total power, or power of God. It was interpreted as Europeans are here but we get to be in charge. Māori didn’t own land, did not privatize resources, it was just shared among them. In the English version, it was that they would have Chiefdomship but that they would cede power to the Queen. They didn't understand what they were signing away. Nearly 99% of the South Island was taken, and the North Island experienced massive land confiscation as well.”

As a person that looks European she's been able to see both sides of it. “I've been around people that dont realize I’m Māori and have said really awful things about Māori. And then on the flip side I’ve been around Māori that have been really open with their views towards Europeans that, you know, aren’t always right because I think as Māori, we are raised in really Māori environments and when we see the Europeans achieving, it can be easy to look at them and think ‘they did this to us.’ But we have to look at them and remember that it was their ancestors, it wasn’t them. There are still a lot of racist people but there are also a lot of people who are willing to learn and wanting to help. I met Many people during my years in university who didn’t know about colonization and its effects. So I think it’s important as Māori to sit down and have those conversations with people.”

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We were also visited on campus last week by Carmen Hetaraka, an Indigenous Māori Peacebuilder, who works around the world with different Indigenous communities. He relayed that one of the most important parts of transforming conflict and being a member of our communities is understanding, acknowledging, and opening constructive dialogue about the history, cultures, identity, and land of the people who have been indigenous to the land. This is where we can begin the transformation of deep rooted conflicts in many areas of our world, in the many areas that have been so heavily affected by colonization.

“The medicine for the oppressed is the same medicine needed for the oppressor.”

-Carmen Hetaraka


Words by Carmen Hetaraka, Devon Atawhai Beatson

Written by Bailee Rasmussen