Madison Park, CNN
May 28, 2016
The Smithsonian Institution has returned the remains of 54 indigenous people, including four mummified Maori heads, to a New Zealand museum.
The New Zealand Museum Te Papa Tongarewa works to preserve the country's heritage and cultures. It held a ceremony with community members acting as pall bearers as the remains were brought back to their homeland.
The ceremony held Friday was a grim reminder of how human body parts of indigenous people were swapped and sold in a grisly, exploitative trade. Many of the remains were taken from New Zealand by foreigners, according to the Library of Congress.
"These were dark days, when these tupuna (ancestors) were traded, collected and stolen, but today we have the opportunity to put right the mistakes of the past," said Dr. Arapata Hakiwai, a Maori co-leader in a statement from Te Papa.
A total of 60 Maori and Moriori individuals' remains held in private and public collections in the United States and the United Kingdom were repatriated.
The Smithsonian had received the Maori remains from U.S. expeditions held in the 1800s. Two of the preserved, tattooed Maori heads formerly owned by the institute had been purchased by an American, Charles Wilkes from the British, according to the Smithsonian.