The discovery of a human skull in sand dunes last month saw new guidelines for dealing with such finds used for the first time.
Inspector Dion Bennett, Wellington District Māori Responsiveness Manager, says under the new process CIB Crime Squad staff took just two hours to prove to the required standard the skull was pre-European, with no further criminal investigation needed.
“The remains were repatriated to the Iwi within the same timeframe,” says Dion.
“Previously, when human remains were discovered there, it took PST and CIB staff up to six hours, with the remains then taken from the area for an assessment of age.
“Once established as pre-European, the remains were returned to local Iwi, taking months on some occasions.”
The skull was found at Queen Elizabeth Park, Paekakariki, which is known as a pre-European Māori burial ground. Remains have previously been discovered there.
Because of this, extensive work has gone into developing a ‘best practice note’ with partners on how Police should deal with accidentally discovered koiwi tangata (human remains) in a culturally appropriate way. Dion sponsored the initiative through the District Leadership Team.
Last year, Kapiti Mana Iwi Liaison Officer Te Roera Puna led consultation with Mana Whenua, Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga and Greater Wellington Regional Council to devise a streamlined process, detailing aspects such as on-scene procedures; initial assessment; removal, storage and repatriation; and key contacts.
Dion says applying the new guidelines on 24 January meant Police resources were used more efficiently and a better service was provided to Iwi, contributing to their trust and confidence in Police.
The discovery of koiwi tangata often occurs through natural erosion of burial grounds and pa sites in areas historically occupied by Māori.