The bulk of the ancestors welcomed on to Te Papa Tongarewa’s Rongomaraeroa Marae on Friday were from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, with another half dozen from other museums in the United States and United Kingdom.
Superintendent Wally Haumaha says taking part in such a special and spiritual ceremony was humbling for the staff involved and a real honour for the New Zealand Police.
He says it demonstrates the trust and confidence Māori have in the Police.
This is the second-largest repatriation in the history of the Karanga Aotearoa repatriation programme, which returns the remains of indigenous people to New Zealand. Many of the Smithsonian's remains were collected during the United States' Transit of Venus expedition of 1874-75, and the Wilkes Expedition of 1838-42. According to Wilkes' journals, members of his expedition were present at the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.
Te Papa kaihautū, Dr Arapata Hakiwai says the collections date to a dark time in the history of collecting and museums. "These were dark days, when these tūpuna were traded, collected and stolen, but today we have the opportunity to put right the mistakes of the past," he says. "We are extremely thankful to the Smithsonian Institution for their efforts in returning our ancestors to their homes.
"Their genuine commitment to the return of these remains allows us to resolve a dark period in our history."
Dr Hakiwai acknowledged all the institutions who had returned remains. "These are not easy discussions, and we are very grateful to all the institutions, who have shown great sensitivity and respect to reach this milestone with us."
The remains will be subject to quarantine, conservation and research before being returned, where possible, to whānau or iwi.
Te Papa collections manager, Lisa Osborne (Ngāti Awa, Te Whānau-a-Ruataupare).
© Kate Whitley, Te Papa
See more photos of the ceremony here.
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