A select committee is to consider whether law changes are needed to better recognise Maori cultural practices after the death of a family member.

The Maori Affairs Select Committee is to hold an inquiry into whanau access to, and the treatment of, the tupapaku (body) of the deceased, such as the practice of a whanau member remaining with a body until burial and whether traditional methods of handling a corpse could be used instead of embalming.

The committee says the inquiry was sparked by concerns raised by whanau about the difficulties of seeing family members immediately after death in hospital, including still-born babies or those who died from sudden infant death syndrom (SIDS). Whanau were also often unable to stay with a body when it was a funeral home or held by another agency.

Green Party MP Marama Davidson, who initiated the inquiry, said whanau often raised issues with dealing with the authorities.


"I have heard how upsetting it has been for many whanau in their grief to be denied the opportunity to honour their loved one in a culturally appropriate way. There is concern about access to tupapaku, when tupapaku get released from authorities, what resources are available to agencies, how agencies communicate with whanau and acknowledging the use of traditional tikanga Maori in the tangihanga (funeral) process."

She said there had also been issues when someone died overseas, especially in Australia.

"With so many Maori living around the world it is important that there are protocols in place should tupapaku need to be brought home."

The inquiry will look at the current powers and practice of police, pathologists, coroners and funeral directors in allowing access to whanau. "We are also aware that whanau experience particular problems when whanau members die overseas, particularly in Australia, in accessing the body and returning it to Aotearoa."

While some agencies already catered for Maori practices with the dead, chair Nuk Korako said the aim of the inquiry was to establish whether any law changes were needed to ensure best practice in allowing whanau access was nationally consistent.

It will also look at the tikanga and current law relating to the handling of the body and funeral practices, including whether traditional methods can be used rather than embalming.

The committee is seeking submissions on the bill and Ms Davidson urged those who had faced problems after a death to speak out.

Submissions close on Wednesday June 29.