Ngāti Awa to play a key role in the Whakaari / White Island recovery operation

10:02 am on 12 December 2019

Details about the Whakaari / White Island recovery process have been released by police, with Ngāti Awa front and centre of the operation.

The recovery of the eight unaccounted for will commence once police have the go-ahead from GNS that it is safe enough to go on the island.

In Whakatāne yesterday, Deputy Police Commissioner Wally Haumaha said while police will make a decision regarding the timing of recovery efforts, Ngāti Awa will lead the process itself.

"Ngāti Awa are front and centre of this operation so for the uplifting of the deceased, once that decision is made, Ngāti Awa will be going across to Whakaari / White Island on HMNZS Wellington."

A tohunga (expert) from Ngāti Awa, as well as a support person, will carry out the karakia, blessings and the upliftings of the tūpāpaku (deceased) in the most appropriate way, he said.

Once the tūpāpaku are back on the whenua, they will be placed in containers and taken to Auckland Hospital.

"Ngāti Awa will conduct the karakia and blessings before they depart the rohe of Ngāti Awa," Haumaha said.

Decisions made regarding Ngāti Awa whānau will be left up to the iwi, he said.

"We absolutely know people are anxious to get their loved ones back and I understand that completely. We are working with all agencies around the table to try and expedite the process but safety is the primary factor."

With an increase in activity on Whakaari today, GNS will continue to monitor the situation and all of the risk-factors will be taken into consideration, he said.

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Paul Quinn. Photo: NZ Parliament

Ngati Awa Group Holdings chair Paul Quinn said following a couple of minor hiccups yesterday, iwi have worked more closely with police today and in particular with the deputy commissioner.

"As a consequence of that we've been able to be more involved in terms of the Ngāti Awa customs and what we want to respect as part of the process," Quinn said.

"We've been able to work closely with the police to get that commitment from them, which we're really pleased about."

Haumaha said iwi have also expressed a willingness to work with families travelling from overseas.

"To support them, awhi them, show them the aroha that they're feeling and the grief that they're feeling, on behalf of those families."

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