EXCLUSIVE: Discussions for return of Pūmuka's flag to Waitangi

By Raniera Harrison

At 185 years old, Pūmuka's flag can certainly be classified as a national treasure.

The flag was present at the signing of the 1835 Declaration of Independence, and the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.

Now, there are calls to have it returned to Waitangi.

"There isn't a single reason, in my view, why the treasures shouldn't be returned home," says the chair of the Waitangi National Trust, Pita Tipene.

In 1834, the flag was gifted by James Busby to Te Roroa chief, Pūmuka.

Pūmuka helped British resident Busby to establish relationships with leading Northland chiefs leading up to the signing of two of the nation's founding documents- leaders such as Kawiti, Hone Heke, and Tāmati Waka Nene.

Today a replica is on display in Te Papa Tongarewa, with the original currently in the museum's vault under strict supervision.

Head of Mātauranga Māori at Te Papa Tongarewa, Puawai Cairns says that "because of its fragile nature, it is effectively a taonga in ICU - so if another institution was to take over I suppose it'll be their responsibility to make sure [procedures are] in place."

The flag was passed down through generations of the Pūmuka family and their descendants who used it for special occasions before it was gifted to the museum in Te Papa Tongarewa in 1960.

"This is the rightful resting place for these treasures," says Tipene.

"We weren't aware of the request that they've presented, but we're pretty happy to enter conversation with the trust to see where we can take this kōrero," says Cairns.

Māori co-leader of Te Papa Tongarewa, Arapata Hakiwai told Te Kāea he's in support of the idea.  However, a formal request is yet to be received for the return of Pūmuka's flag and the Treaty to Waitangi.

"It's not something you can really put a date on- but again, because this is the first time we've heard of this tono, it would be great to enter into kōrero," adds Cairns.

The legal responsibility for the Treaty of Waitangi currently rests with the National Library of New Zealand- where it is currently on exhibition at the 'He Tohu' exhibit in Wellington.

The Waitangi National Trust is yet to formally request the repatriation of Pūmuka's flag.