Nicholas Jones is a New Zealand Herald political reporter.

Ngapuhi leader demands Waitangi museum return artefacts

An axe loaned by the hapu Te Matarahurahu of Ngapuhi to the new museum at Waitangi. Photo / David Rankin
An axe loaned by the hapu Te Matarahurahu of Ngapuhi to the new museum at Waitangi. Photo / David Rankin

A museum at Waitangi that opened to the public today has already been hit with a demand for the return of objects including Hone Heke's tomahawk.

The Museum of Waitangi, part of a $14 million redevelopment of the Treaty Grounds, was formally opened by the Governor-General, Sir Jerry Mateparae, on Friday, and opened to the public today.

But Ngapuhi leader David Rankin has this evening contacted management to demand the return of two taonga he said his hapu, Te Matarahurahu, agreed to lend to the museum.

Mr Rankin told the Herald he had never been given any documentation after handing over the two precious items -- a tomahawk that belonged to his ancestor Hone Heke and a godstick used by the tohunga Papahurihia -- in July.

He said the final straw came when neither he nor any of his hapu's kaumatua were invited to the museum opening, and the artefacts had been treated "like items at a garage sale".

In an email to museum staff, Mr Rankin said he wanted the items removed from display and returned by this Friday.

"You ... have behaved in a culturally reprehensible manner over this loan, and it is clear that our taonga are no longer in a culturally safe space," Mr Rankin wrote.

"Considering that Heke was the first rangatira to sign the Treaty, this has been regarded as extremely offensive by our kaumatua and kuia."

He said he would refer the matter to the police if necessary.

Waitangi National Trust chief executive Greg McManus said it was difficult to comment at short notice and without speaking with staff.

He was confident that loan documentation would have been completed for all loaned items.

"If there has been an issue with Mr Rankin receiving these I can only apologise and would like to discuss it with him next week."

The Museum of Waitangi features taonga, artefacts and around 500 images from private collections and museums around the world. Some of the items are nearly 200 years old.

There is a permanent exhibition at the museum called Ko Waitangi Tenei: This is Waitangi, which explores the stories behind the place and its people.

There is a copy of the first bilingual Treaty -- a document made by missionaries in 1844 to aid understanding between British and Maori. But it later led to conflict.

Mr McManus said the dawn blessing of the museum was conducted by senior kaumatua and church ministers from throughout Ngapuhi, and -- because it was open to all -- no invitations were sent.

He said the ceremony was widely publicised among Ngapuhi and some 250 people attended.

- NZ Herald

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