Te Atiawa representatives are delighted a deal has been struck which could see the Motunui panels returned to the iwi as soon as next month.
Last week, Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson announced the five panels, which were illegally exported out of New Zealand more than 40 years ago, had been bought by the government and would likely be returned to Te Atiawa as part of a cultural redress package related to its treaty settlement.
The deal, which cost $4.5 million, followed a number of unsuccessful attempts made by previous governments to secure the art works' return.
Te Atiawa treaty negotiator Peter Moeahu said he and Garry Nicholas travelled to Geneva in Switzerland at the end of June as part of a delegation tasked with bringing the panels back.
"I'm feeling ecstatic that we finally got them home," he said.
Moeahu said members of Ngati Rahiri, a Motunui-based hapu, told him yesterday they were also pleased with the outcome.
He said although he was aware of the ongoing efforts made by the Crown to get the panels back, he only received three days notice that a deal had been done.
He said during the "once in a lifetime" trip he also met the son and wife of Bolivian millionaire George Ortiz. The panels were sold to Ortiz for US$65,000 under falsified documents after they were smuggled out of New Zealand.
Te Atiawa Iwi Authority chairwoman Wikitoria Keenan said it was "fantastic" to know the panels would be returned back to Taranaki.
She said the return of the historically important artworks had been an issue that was discussed during treaty negotiations with the Crown.
"It was certainly on the wish-list," she said.
Both Moeahu and Keenan hoped the panels, which were carved by Te Atiawa artists in the 18th century, would be formally returned to iwi at its pending settlement signing ceremony in August.
Moeahu said he had also extended an invitation to the Ortiz family to the ceremony, which they had accepted.
In the interim, the panels will be stored at Wellington's Te Papa Museum.
- Taranaki Daily News
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