Three Iwi Kūpuna Repatriated from Aotearoa

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Read this article in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi

Over the Memorial Day weekend in May, Hui Iwi Kuamoʻo partnered with the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement (CNHA) to bring home three iwi kūpuna formally housed at the Canterbury Museum in Christchurch, New Zealand (Aotearoa).

This effort follows months of successful repatriations in Germany, Austria, England, and Northern Ireland by Hui Iwi Kuamoʻo and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs resulting in the return of 62 iwi kūpuna and five mea kapu.

CNHA Chief Executive Officer Kūhiō Lewis said, “Caring for our lāhui means supporting not only our people today and the generations yet to come, but also our ancestors who came long before us. CNHA is humbled to kōkua Hui Iwi Kuamoʻo in its efforts to finally bring our kūpuna home.”

Hui Iwi Kuamoʻo raised the funding on its own which included $25,000 committed by CNHA to support the significant travel costs abroad for all of these efforts. While traveling is arduous, doing so during the pandemic placed members at risk. However, it was necessary in order to expedite the repatriation. In addition, there is a short window of time for action or we risk the institution housing the ancestors – or the national government responsible for export – potentially changing their minds. Hence, it was critical that the community stepped up and undertook these significant risks, employed its considerable expertise, and funded these repatriations without unnecessary delay.

This latest repatriation is the result of years of work. I was able to utilize my international repatriation networks to research and identify these three ancestors even after the Canterbury Museum had repeatedly indicated it did not house any iwi kūpuna. This effort also featured extensive efforts by Kamakana Ferreira of OHA to help navigate challenges and expedite the return from this museum in Christchurch while New Zealand was on lockdown for two years. OHA filed a formal claim for repatriation of these remains with support from Hui Iwi Kuamoʻo and Hawaiʻi Gov. David Ige.

Mehanaokalā Hind, senior director of Community Programs at CNHA, along with Makoa Caceres and Kaipo Torco, took part in a traditional pōwhiri ceremony at Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand in Wellington followed by a formal handover ceremony.

The three ancestors, one male age 20-30, one female age 20-30, and one female in her 40s were taken in 1860 from the ʻahupuaʻa of Waikīkī on the island of Oʻahu. They were in the Canterbury Museum for 150 years before the historic ceremony on May 29, 2022.

“There is an immense need to bring our kūpuna home as more of our iwi kūpuna are identified in museums and research institutions across the globe,” said Hind. “As institutions become enlightened and their humanity opens the once-locked doors, the opportunity to reunite iwi kūpuna and their homeland is promising. None of this can be done without the continued vigilance of Native Hawaiian descendants.”