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Indigenous Remains to be Returned Home

Dignitaries and museum officials attend a special service in Sweden for the repatriation of ancestral bones. Image courtesy of NZ Ambassador to EU on Twitter.

The latest repatriation effort shows the ongoing battle faced by Indigenous peoples in both Australia and New Zealand

Indigenous Remains to be Returned Home

After spending 120 years in Germany, the remains of nearly four dozen Moriori and Maori people will be returned home. The remains were originally held in the Ubersee Museum, and now the German Natural History Museum has said that it could no longer justify keeping the sacred remains.

The Museum has identified that 35 of the bones were from Moriori people that were stolen from the Chatham Islands by collector Hugo Herman Schauinsland in the late 19th Century. The Maori remains are believed to have come from the Swiss settler, Henry Suter in 1887.

Museum director Wiebke Ahrndt decided to return the bones to New Zealand as a sign of respect, “The provenance research undertaken has been able to shed light on the circumstances under which this collection was acquired,” she said. “It also made clear that there is no longer any ethical justification for retaining the ancestral remains of the Moriori and Maori in our collections.”

The mayor of Breman has also offered a formal apology for the behaviour of the collectors and traders during that time. The apology and repatriation of the remains are being heralded as a step in the right direction.

Bone collecting was common in both New Zealand and Australia in the early 18th and 19th centuries. According to Aboriginal advocacy group Creative Spirits, there is an estimated 1, 000 Aboriginal remains that are still held in museums around the world.

In both cultures, there are significant impacts of these remains being separated, as Aboriginal people believe the spirits of those whose remains are not at home cannot rest. “Our believe is that when our people’s remains are not with their people and in our country, then their spirit is wandering, “ says Aboriginal elder Major Sumner. “Unless they are going back home, the spirit never rests.”

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples provides that all have the right to the repatriation of their human remains, and that States should facilitate this access.

The Maori and Moriori remains from Germany will be traditionally welcomed back to country with a traditional welcoming ceremony at Te Papa.

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