Request for schoolgirls’ karakia over human remains causes upset


Upset whānau say asking a pair of Māori schoolgirls to say a karakia (prayer) over human remains found at their school breached many protocols.

The human kōiwi (bones) were found at Epsom Girls Grammar school.

The school admits that although the idea was well-intentioned, it was a breach of tikanga (custom) and should not have happened.

One girl’s father says the breach left him concerned and angry about his daughter’s involvement with kōiwi and how her involvement came about. He’s worried other schools might make similar mistakes by not consulting before making such decisions.

The school is on Māori land and Māori staff – tangata whenua – weren’t consulted at all, he says.

“Someone’s taken it upon themselves, under some directive to move this skeleton and then, somehow, they thought it a good idea to ask my daughter and her cousin to say a karakia over them. That’s a breach [of tikanga] in many ways.”

The two girls said the karakia before the kōiwi, thought to have been used in the past for teaching purposes, was taken to the University of Auckland.

The father says he is worried about his daughter’s safety.

For Māori, a kōiwi is still a person, deserving of mana and dignity.

Kōiwi are the physical representation of their whakapapa and identity. The essence of a person is in the bones, the most sacred part of a person.

According to tikanga, it is culturally offensive to interfere with, display or use kōiwi.

“Just to simply be rolled out and transported down the road to somewhere else, as Māori people, we don’t do that to people. There’s a system and a process in place for us to respond to those sorts of things.”

A kaumātua or tohunga from the local iwi should have been consulted over the tikanga, he says.

He says another aspect of the tikanga breach is the school overlooked its partnership with Te Tiriti (Treaty of Waitangi).

The result of not consulting with the Treaty partner is people break tikanga, he says.

“There’s potentially a number of conversations where Māori should’ve been involved and they just weren’t. Had they been involved this would not have happened and, as a result of that, that’s what angers me, is that our children are put at risk because of that.”

Other parents were also upset and concerned.

“These are remains of an ancestor,” says one. She wants the school to repatriate the kōiwi to the descendants.

This means storing them safely and culturally appropriately until they are eventually put to rest with their family.

Since the incident the school leadership has worked with the girls’ whānau to rectify the situation, which the father appreciates.

He also wants the Ministry of Education to see if other schools have kōiwi.

The Ministry says however, that schools don’t have to report on the materials they use for educational purposes.

It says it encourages schools to be aware of appropriate cultural practices and to seek guidance and cultural support from kaiako Māori and local kaumātua.


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