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Sharples and Finlayson welcome French decision to repatriate Māori heads

5 May 2010

This content is tagged as Ngā toi Māori .

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Arts Culture and Heritage Minister Christopher Finlayson and Maori Affairs Minister Dr Pita Sharples have welcomed a decision today by the French National Assembly to adopt a law enabling 'Toi moko' (mummified Māori Heads) held in French institutions to be returned to New Zealand.

Since 2003, New Zealand authorities have followed a policy of facilitating the repatriation of Toi Moko and koiwi tangata Māori (Māori ancestral remains) from museums around the world. Toi moko and koiwi tangata form part of some museum collections of Pacific artefacts dating from the 19th Century. To date, some 39 institutions worldwide have collaborated in similar repatriations.

"This decision by the French Parliament acknowledges the cultural and spiritual importance to New Zealand, and in particular to the Maori people, of bringing Toi moko home to their ancestral lands," said Mr Finlayson. "New Zealand appreciates this gesture."

"This is a matter of great significance to Maori," said Dr Sharples. "Maori believe that, through their ancestors' return to their original homeland, their dignity is restored, and they can be put to rest in peace among their families," he said.

The act will enable the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa to formally negotiate repatriation of Toi moko with Museums in France. It is thought that between 12 and 20 Toi moko are currently held in French museums.

The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, on behalf of the New Zealand Government, negotiates and facilitates the return of Toi moko and kiwi tangata Māori.

Toi moko and koiwi tangata are repatriated to Te Papa on an interim basis, and Te Papa works closely with iwi (Māori tribes) to determine their attributed place of origin, for eventual burial where possible on ancestral lands.