Ngati Awa leader Pouroto Ngaropo says the good relationship the iwi has with a Pakeha family that has held a collection of historic moa and human bones since the mid-19th century, is enabling the taonga back to return to Maori ownership.
Whakatane resident Keith Channon, whose family began collecting Maori artefacts in the 1850s, has donated them to the local iwi.
The collection began with Mr Channon's great-grandparents who were entrusted the taonga for safekeeping by Ngati Hikairo elders from the Kawhia area.
Mr Ngaropo says the good bond between the Channon family and the iwi means getting the ancestral remains returned to the Ngati Hikairo can now go ahead.
He says the Ngati Awa hasn't officially been in contact with the Waikato iwi but its representatives have been talking about the possible repatriation of the of the skeletal remains.
Mr Ngaropo says having the taonga in their possession means they can negotiate Maori to Maori instead of Pakeha to Maori over the appropriate course of action.
He says, in the meantime, the moa and human bones are being kept in the Whakatane Museum where some of the artefacts still need to be catalogued and research needs to be done so the pieces can be clearly identified and repatriated to their rightful owners.