Joyful, healing ceremony for returned Maori and Moriori remains

Dozens of ancestral remains are now back home in Aotearoa after being repatriated from Europe.

A ceremony to welcome the Māori and Moriori remains was held at Te Papa museum on Monday, where there were emotional scenes.

It was a time of healing for the descendants of those whose remains were brought home, and also those whose ancestors took the bones and sent them abroad.

Dr Pamela Hyde says "We feel sad and sorry that this happened and that we are really pleased and at peace that the ancestors are back home."

Dr Hyde's great-grandfather Henry Suter was a zoologlist who migrated from Switzerland to New Zealand in the late 1800s.

Once here he illegally took and traded remains.

"I think he put his science and his desire to support his family ahead of the whanau whose ancestors he sent away," Dr Hyde says.

Some of the remains traded by Suter were among the 59 returned to Te Papa on Monday, and Dr Hyde says "It's a healing process for our whanau as I'm sure it is for the whanau that are here."

Some of the remains whakapapa to The Chatham Islands, Northland, Waikato and the South Island.

They have come from institutes in Sweden, Germany and England.

Te Papa's Kaihautu Dr Arapata Hakiwai says "It's reconcilation and healing but ... I mean just the joy of the people here knowing that their ancestors have come home after all these years."

Māori and Moriori remains have been traded and collected since as far back as the 1700s, taken from graves for research or collections.

About 420 have been returned to New Zealand but it's believed another 600 are still overseas.