Iwi want more say on scattered ashes

9:29 am on 9 March 2016

Iwi say people should have to consult with them about where they scatter ashes of the dead.

cremation ashes

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Whether a coastline fished from as a child, or the mountain admired out their window for years, many people have special places they want to end up when they die.

However, those places could be sacred for iwi, which is why some want them placed off limits to ashes of the deceased.

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About 22,000 families faced the decision of what to do with cremation ashes last year, with 70 percent of all those who died in New Zealand cremated.

Ngātiwai Trust Board resource management unit manager Clive Stone said it was a sensitive issue for Māori.

"What happened a few years back at one of our beaches, some people started depositing ashes on the beach where we collected pipis.

"And so that created an uproar and as a result we would not support any people putting ashes indiscriminately anywhere along the coast."

Te Kotahitanga o Te Atiawa chair Liana Poutū said death and places where food was sourced did not mix.

"Spreading of ashes could mean that they end up in our waterways, they end up in our food sources and for us that has cultural implications."

The scattering of ashes is mostly unregulated by local authorities although most advise that people engage with local iwi beforehand.

Ms Poutū said regulations need to be stronger.

"It is not a case of it cannot happen at all, necessarily. It is about having that conversation so that it can occur in the most appropriate place and in the most appropriate way," she said.

Auckland's Independent Maori Statutory Board chairman David Taipari said regulation was too weak.

"Rather than it be something nice to do, it needs to be enforced, because it needs to be respected."

"Waahi tapu and the likes can be affected and those are personal to whānau, hapū and iwi and they need to be engaged and consulted before any of those actions occur."

A recent review of burial and cremation laws by the Law Commission, led by Dr Wayne Mapp, found more needed to be done to respect cultural concerns about scattering ashes in sacred sites.

"We thought the current situation really was not good enough."

He said iwi wanted more control but many were not keen on a full formal process as it would be onerous on everyone involved.

"We also did not think that you could actually justify having an actual law or a system where people get permits," he said.

The Law Commission recommended that there be codes of conduct, developed in part by Local Government New Zealand, and then appropriate signposting in places, he said.

Funeral Directors Association of New Zealand chief executive Katrina Shanks said regulations would be too hard to enforce.

"I do not think we need to regulate if there is no harm happening at the moment. And I do not believe that there is any evidence to show that people are being insensitive and there is a balance that is out of kilter in terms of scattering ashes."

She said seeking permission from iwi could unfairly affect the rights of other cultures, such as hindu, who scattered ashes in flowing water.

Kaumātua Te Atiawa ki Taranaki Whanui Peter Love said, generally, Māori attitudes towards cremation were changing.

He thought seeking permission from iwi was not the way forward.

"That is stretching their authority too far because it comes from a very historic perspective way back."

Dr Mapp said the government was set to release its response to a major report on burial and cremation laws next month.