However, as well as the ancestral remains previously on display, there are many more in storage. We do not see these changes to our displays as the end of a process, but as a first step towards redress. Our aim is not to hide this issue but to work with communities to find the most appropriate way forward. Some communities may request the return of their ancestors, and others may wish for us to care for them or treat them differently. We recognise that attitudes and appropriate treatment vary considerably in different national, cultural, community and individual cases. In the future, we aim to only display human remains after consultation and with the permission of community delegates. Given the international origins of the collections, this is a long-term process that will involve collaboration and conversation.
We are focussing on research that helps us determine where remains come from and, where we know, we will be reaching out to communities to make them aware. We are working with an osteologist to provide us with additional information which might help us to find living descendants. This does not involve invasive or destructive testing.
There is a growing awareness among overseas institutions about the importance of repatriating ancestral remains, their genuine commitment to the repatriation of indigenous remains allows our country to resolve a very dark period in our history. to engagement and consultation, be open to exploring models for both virtual and physical repatriation and co-curatorship.
Dr Arapata Hakiwai, Maori and Moriori Karanga Aotearoa programme, Te Papa Museum, New Zealand (in 2016)
The Museum has returned human remains and associated objects and will continue to work with international partners on this important work. Before the Museum can agree to return any remains, we need to be sure that the requesting body speaks for the community of origin and that the wishes of the community are being consulted, accounted for, and followed. For many communities, repatriation remains prohibitively expensive, subject to impassable barriers and is hard to achieve in practice. It may also seem low priority when set against a complex backdrop of other political, social, and cultural challenges. The Museum seeks to address this and meet some of these challenges by publicising and prioritising activity relating to our returns policy and procedures. We also intend to take a more proactive approach to engagement and consultation, be open to exploring models for both virtual and physical repatriation and co-curators.
Full lists of human remains in the collections can be found here.
A copy of our current human remains policy can be found here.