Indigenous remains coming home from UK

Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin said the government, which sponsored the repatriation delegation, was committed to working with indigenous people, overseas governments, museums and private collectors to improve the repatriation of ancestral remains to Australia.

"University College's willingness to repatriate Indigenous remains promptly, respectfully and unconditionally is an important example for other institutions and collectors," Ms Macklin said.

Since 1996, more than 1,000 indigenous remains have been brought back to Australia, 166 of them from 18 institutions since 2004.

However, more than 1,000 indigenous Australian remains are still held in museums around the world.

The federal government recently announced it would overhaul the process for the repatriation of remains from institutions, including establishing a new International Repatriation Advisory Committee.

Indigenous remains coming home from UK
July 20, 2009

Repatriation of indigenous remains to be made easier

The repatriation of indigenous people's remains to traditional owners will be made smoother from today, and allow Aboriginal spirits to come home.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin will use the end of NAIDOC Week to announce an overhaul of the process of returning Aboriginal artefacts and remains to Australia.

A new International Repatriation Advisory Committee will be appointed in September to help collectors right the wrongs of the past, she said.

More than 1000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ancestral remains are held in museums around the world. Many are in Britain, France and the US.

The process will "return the spirits to their land, restore the sense of peace … and help in the healing", Ms Macklin said.

The practice of removing the remains of indigenous people started with European settlement in Australia.

Over a period or more than 160 years, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander remains were collected by explorers, travellers and scientists, and were shipped off to museums and private collections around the world, usually without consent.

"The essential humanity of indigenous people was simply denied," Ms Macklin said. "In line with the thinking of the time, indigenous people were viewed as objects of curiosity — specimens rather than people."

Burial grounds were disturbed, remains exhumed, and there were documented cases of Aboriginal people being murdered for the purpose of collection.

A lack of documentation of what happened to the remains made repatriation complex, Ms Macklin said.

Even when institutions agreed to give remains up, tracing them back to a particular part of the country was a painstaking process.

"However time-consuming and complex, those institutions and individuals holding the remains in their collections have a responsibility to return them," Ms Macklin said.

Yuko Narushima
July 10, 2009

Links: Aboriginal remains repatriation

Indigenous remains returned to Melbourne

24th July 2009 |
"Home to rest". The remains are now being temporarily stored at the Melbourne Museum. (ABC TV News)

Ancestral remains of the Gunditjmara people have been returned to Melbourne from England.

The remains have been held at the University College of London, and are being returned under the Indigenous Repatriation Agreement between the British and Australian governments.

There are hopes that it could inspire other institutions around the world to do the same.

The remains will be cared for at the Melbourne Museum, before being taken to a final resting place on Gunditjmara country.

Gunditj Mirring spokesman Damien Bell says it has been a positive experience all around.

"This one's been with the University College of London, and it's worked well, so it should provide a positive model for other institutions to return indigenous ancestor remains to Australia," he said.

Call for repatriation of Indigenous remains

Media Statement | 10th July 2009 |

Jenny Macklin
The Australian Government today called for museums and private collectors worldwide to work with the Government to return Indigenous remains.
Speaking at the International Conference on the Inclusive Museum in Brisbane today, the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin, said the Government was overhauling the processes for the repatriation of Australian remains from international institutions to make them more inclusive of Indigenous aspirations.

To help with this review, a new International Repatriation Advisory Committee will be appointed in September.

The Committee will advise the Government on a range of issues, including reviewing current international repatriation policy and finding a more effective way to deliver on international repatriation.

Over a period of more than 160 years - from 1788 to 1948 or later - Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander remains were collected, usually without consent, by explorers, travellers and scientists and shipped off to museums and private collections in Australia and across the world.

In the past 18 months, more than 80 remains from five institutions in four countries were repatriated, including the recent return of three Indigenous Australians from the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.

About 1000 Indigenous Australian ancestral remains continue to be held in museums around the world, including the United Kingdom, Germany, France and the United States of America.

For Indigenous communities the return of their ancestors' remains has great cultural significance - they believe the spirits of their ancestors cannot rest until they are "returned to Country".

The Australian Government strongly believes the repatriation of Indigenous remains must occur respectfully, unconditionally and as quickly as possible, and will continue to work with countries to ensure the return of Indigenous remains.

The application process for positions on the International Repatriation Advisory Committee opens today.

For more information visit:

Italy agrees to return Aboriginal remains

Paola Totaro Herald Correspondent in Rome | July 13, 2009 |
ABORIGINAL remains collected last century and brought to Italian museums or medical colleges for study are to be returned to their traditional owners in Australia.

The Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd and his Italian counterpart, Silvio Berlusconi, held bilateral talks at the end of the Group of Eight meeting in L'Aquila and signed a memorandum of understanding after years of controversy.

The joint declaration establishes the principles for co-operation between Australia and Italy relating to the identification and repatriation of indigenous remains from Italian cultural institutions.

Mr Rudd said the agreement provided an illustration of the strong relationship between Italy and Australia. But yesterday his spokeswoman was unable to provide details of how many individuals may be held in Italy or in which cities.

The decision comes a couple of months after three Aboriginal skulls, gathering dust on a museum shelf after being taken to Britain in the 1860s, were repatriated and returned to the Ngarrindjeri people in South Australia for reburial.

Oxford University introduced a policy to govern requests for the return of human remains in 2006 and stringently assesses each case. This includes an assessment of the uniqueness and scientific and educational value of the remains. The advice of external, independent experts is also sought.

Italy is also likely to assess requests case by case.

The Australian and British governments signed a joint statement on Aboriginal remains in 2000, which committed to basic principles to facilitate their return. However, the Australian position has always been that indigenous human remains should be repatriated without conditions attached. No detail was provided of what conditions apply to the Italian agreement.

Mr Rudd also said the Government would match dollar for dollar, up to $1.5 million, the money raised by Italian-Australians for the reconstruction of the earthquake stricken region of Abruzzo. The funds will support the education of local children.