9 Oct 2012

Aboriginals support return of Maori, Moriori remains

6:56 am on 9 October 2012

The campaign to return ancestral remains of Maori and Moriori to New Zealand from Australian museums was led by indigenous Australians, a Te Papa executive says.

The Karanga Aotearoa Repatriation Programme at the national museum began working on the safe return of Maori remains from museums in Sydney and Perth in June 2004.

Team manager Te Herekiekie Herewini says the Western Australia Museum and the J.L. Shellshear Museum in Sydney have strong Aboriginal representatives who lobbied for the return of the ancestral remains (koiwi tangata).

Mr Herewini says the Nyoongar people in Perth and the Koori people in Sydney have been supportive of the repatriation project.

He says Aboriginal people - as do Maori - appreciate that returning ancestral remains to their descendants is important.

Mr Herewini says the thing they both have in common is respecting their tupuna (ancestors) and the spiritual elements of returning those koiwi tangata to their homeland.

Return ceremony

The return of the remains to the national museum, Te Papa Tongarewa, was marked by a formal ceremony in Wellington on Monday.

They comprised 14 koimi tangata Moriori (Moriori ancestral remains) and six koiwi tangata Maori from the J.L. Shellshear Museum at the University of Sydney, while two sets of Maori ancestral remains came from the Western Australian Museum in Perth. They were gifted to the museums between 1899 and 1932.

Te Papa kaihautu Michelle Hippolite told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme that the return has taken a little time because it is done by agreement, and museum staff will do their best to make sure the remains get back home.

"We do look into the provenance information that is often attached to each of these koiwi tangata, and once we get enough information we commence discussions with the iwi or the whanau or hapu, depending on where the information takes us."

Ms Hippolite says several rituals are required to commemorate their lives and welcome them back to Aotearoa-New Zealand.

Since the programme began, more than 320 ancestral remains have been repatriated from 12 countries, and 89 have been returned to their papa kainga (places of origin).

In January, 20 toi moko (mummified heads) were repatriated from France.

The Karanga Aotearoa team at Te Papa has a mandate from the Government to negotiate the repatriation of koiwi tangata on behalf of Maori.