Chapter 11
Problems with the current legislative scheme for burial and cremation

Lack of guidance on the disposal of ashes

11.49We described in Chapter 10 that there is currently no legislative guidance on where or how ashes may be scattered in public places. We have considered this issue because there can be several conflicting interests at play when ashes are scattered. On the one hand, many people choose to scatter the ashes of their relatives in a public place that was of significance to the deceased person. This may be a park, a beach, a river or the sea. Besides the significance of the location, other advantages of scattering ashes in this way are that it is flexible and inexpensive.

11.50However, such a practice can have an impact on other users of that public space. This may happen if the ashes are left visible or if so many ashes are scattered in a place that it affects the chemical composition of the soil. It can also be deeply offensive under tikanga Māori, which places restrictions and conditions on the handling of human remains, including ashes. In particular, the scattering of ashes on culturally or spiritually significant land, lakes or rivers may contravene Māori values and protocols.

11.51The concerns of Māori in respect of the disposal of ashes were clearly identified in consultation, particularly during the public meetings held throughout New Zealand. Both individual Māori and iwi consistently expressed concern that ashes were being scattered without consideration of tikanga Māori. This was most evident in respect of ashes being scattered on beaches, in rivers and in the sea near the shoreline or over sources of kaimoana.

11.52However, it also showed an increasing understanding of tikanga as it relates to funerals and burial. On a number of occasions, we were advised that Pākehā families seeking to dispose of ashes in the sea would consult with local iwi about the most culturally respectful way of doing so. In such cases, the family and iwi agreed on how the ashes would be scattered that met both the needs of tikanga Māori and the family of the deceased.