While some opponents of repatriation believe that returning remains from scientific institutions will hinder scientific development, Schnalke says the collections will not suffer by losing the colonial pieces. “There are so many archaeological human remains from our very own origin that are not disputed,” he says.

Once the ancestors are returned to Te Papa, the museum will only serve as a temporary sanctuary before further research identifies their descendants or place of origin for return. According to them, museums have no right to categorize and keep human beings. “Museums are in the business of objects and telling stories of objects that originate from communities,” says Mamaku, who is confident that it’s only a matter of time before the attitude of all museums shifts. This year, the program was surprised by a European institution’s acceptance of a claim, filed 20 years ago. “We never thought it would ever be approved,” he says. “There’ll be a point in time when particular institutions are left being the lone voices among the chorus of singing songs, rejoicing, and unity. Eventually, those dissenting voices will see that there isn’t anything wrong with [acknowledging] these ancestors not as objects, but as people.”