They were infamous, controversial and often seen as radical. But life is different now for John Ohia and Orewa Barrett-Ohia.

The Tauranga couple are original members of Ngā Tamatoa (young Warriors) - a Māori activist group that emerged from Auckland University in the 1970s, who delivered a petition to Parliament in 1972.

"None of us had cars, no money, we didn't take any luggage," John Ohia said. "We just went there and camped there on the steps of Parliament."

The iconic photo of the group lounging on the steps of Parliament hangs in the national museum, Te Papa.

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The group handed a petition of 30,000 signatures to the Government of the day, calling for te reo Māori to be taught in schools, and it was successful.

As Waitangi Day approached, John and Orewa have been reflecting on just how far the country has come.

"I remember going to a hui with Tame Iti in 1972, and listening to the [speaker from] Tauranga County Council," Ohia said.

"And the guy stands up and he says 'well, you know, Māori will disappear one day. They'll completely disappear and we'll all be back to being New Zealanders'.

"I was like 'Eh?'.

"You don't see that anymore, except there are still people within the Tauranga region and every other region, that see the Māori people as getting special treatment.

"It's not special treatment. We just haven't been recompensed."

They see positive progress, too.

"Just the other day I started singing a Māori waiata and next minute these two blonde-headed boys started singing it too. You never saw that back then."

But the couple remained undecided if Waitangi Day should be a cause for celebration.

"Waitangi Day is the time to acknowledge those before us," Orewa Barrett-Ohia. "It's time to reflect on where we are at now. And it's time to ask what can we do better?"

A Waitangi Day dawn service will be held at Mount Drury at 6.30am, followed by the first Tauranga Moana Waitangi Day Festival 2019 at Mount Drury and the Historic Village from 10am.

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