Chapter 4
Burial in New Zealand today: an overview of the current practice


4.90From the earliest days of our burial law, Māori burial places have been governed under a separate legal framework. Most respondents to our Local Authority Survey were aware of the presence of urupā in their district but there was no consistent approach to documenting their locations and no formal information on the number of burials which took place annually in local urupā.190 Taranaki District Council noted that most towns in its district had their own local urupā and all information pertaining to burials was held by the local iwi.
4.91While people of Māori descent may, of course, be buried in any public cemetery, the law also allows for the establishment of new urupā on Māori land. It is outside the scope of this project to review the way in which urupā are set aside. The governing law is Te Ture Whenua Maori Act 1993, rather than the Burial and Cremation Act. There is also a provision in the Reserves Act 1977 empowering the Minister of Conservation to allow burials to continue in ancestral urupā located on scenic or historic reserves.191 We are not in a position to comment on the detail of these provisions, although we consider that they are consistent with the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi, and acknowledge the importance of ancestral connections with the land.

4.92However, it is interesting to note the differences between the permissive approach to urupā, and the highly restrictive approach to burial grounds and cemeteries. In particular, in a number of cases it is evident that those with ties to ancestral Māori land who did not necessarily meet the Ministry’s criteria under section 48 were nevertheless given approval for burial on private land on the grounds that the proposed site was in the process of being designated as an urupā. While there are compelling reasons why the law should not interfere with the rights of tangata whenua to be buried on their own land, we consider that many New Zealanders, particularly in rural areas, have a similar desire for burial in a place of particular significance to their family.

190Hastings survey respondents note that 26 urupā had been identified in the District Plan in 2003.
191Reserves Act 1977, s 46(2).