A local Whakatāne iwi has been thanked for leading and caring for the affected family members following the Whakaari/White Island eruption and recovery operation earlier today.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has acknowledged Ngāti Awa for their role as tangata whenua.
Ngāti Awa kaumātua (elder) Joe Harawira says it is the responsibility and privilege as tangata whenua to support the families and guests during this difficult time.
“Protocols determine our behaviour as a people and one of those is to show absolute respect to affected whānau. This is a time for us to come together and wrap around all of those who have been affected by this tragedy," said Mr Harawira.
Ngāti Awa kaumātua led a visit to Whakaari/White Island for family members of those who remained on the island, accompanied by members of NZ Police, the NZ Defence Force and Australian High Commission before the recovery operation officially started.
Twenty-eight people, including some family members of those remaining on the island and four crew members, gathered for karakia on the wharf before heading out at 4.30 this morning.
As the group made their way out towards the island, the NZ Police launch ‘Deodar’ acknowledged family members by flashing their lights, before escorting them towards the island.
Once positioned, at a safe distance off the coast of Whakaari, further karakia were offered and family members were given an opportunity to say a few words.
“This was about providing an opportunity for family to acknowledge their loved ones and share in their grief,” said Mr Harawira.
The recovery operation is ongoing and Ngāti Awa remain closely involved to ensure all related activity is consistent with its customs.