Let our whanau rest in peace

By John Landrigan

They've lain undisturbed for over 600 years, but six months ago they were dug up and put in a storage unit. Joseph Barratt talks to local iwi about concerns that their ancestors' remains aren't being afforded the respect and dignity that they deserve.
Betty King finds it difficult to drive past the spot where Auckland Airport's new runway is being built. On a recent journey she pulled over, bowed her head and cried.
She cried for the 85 bodies - some of whom could be those of her direct ancestors - who, 600 years after their deaths are piled in a storage unit. Almost six months ago it was revealed that the skeletal remains had been found at the site during the past year.
Their final destination is still undecided and local Maori are upset.
"I think how degrading it would be if it was me. To be dug up and piled in a container and left there - 600 years after I'm dead.''
"They [Auckland Airport] have had them for over a year now.
"Let's bring them home so we can give them some dignity.''
A public meeting held by the airport company explained where the tupapaku (corpses) were discovered and how they were found.
"They don't know where exactly they were from, but they did say some were decapitated,'' says Mrs King. "They were found in a field that once grew vegetables and strawberries.''
She is also concerned more bodies will be uncovered when work resumes on the new runways. All this has been bad news for the people, says Mrs King, who have had a bad run of deaths in recent times.
"Our urupa (cemetery) typically has around six to eight deaths a year. Over the last eight months there have been about a dozen.

It's not just our urupa, but others in the area are experiencing the same thing.''
Maurice Wilson, a kaumatua from Makaurau Marae in Mangere, says the airport could do better at communication. "We want them to get in touch.''
He says the manner in which the bodies are being kept is "very disrespectful''.
"We should have a place of our own to put them. We want them in an urupa and it needs to happen soon.''
Manukau City councillor Sylvia Taylor is surprised by the number of people who don't know what is going on.
"I'm surprised the wider iwi are not being consulted. Many I have spoken to say, 'It's not good for our people but we don't know what is happening.'.''
She says genuinely held beliefs should be respected.
"For the sake of these bodies that have the right to be left in peace, we need to resolve this. Most people I have spoken with want the bodies returned to Stonefields where they can rest in peace.''
Richard Llewellyn, senior communications manager for Auckland Airport, says everything is been done to resolve the issue quickly.
"It's a very, very sensitive issue. We are going to great pains to consult with local Maori.''
He says the koiwi - skeletal remains - are being kept at a safe, secure location and have been blessed.
"The moment the koiwi were found, we have put protocols in place for consulting on it.''
Mr Llewellyn says he's surprised to hear that some Maori are upset by a lack of consultation as the airport communicates with iwi representatives once a week. "We might raise this with them about communicating with the others.''
He wouldn't comment on whether negotiating a cash settlement is slowing the process.
But he says, "Certainly, when we get to the point of respectfully burying the koiwi, it might involve a koha [donation] of some sort.
"We are looking at a range of options but, for us, we want this respectfully resolved as quickly as possible.''
Mr Llewellyn says the airport has been consulting marae representatives Saul Roberts and kaumatua Te Warena Taua.
Neither responded to The Aucklander before deadline.

- The Aucklander

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