The Australian Government supports the repatriation of ancestral remains and secret sacred objects to their communities of origin to help promote healing and reconciliation.

We help facilitate the unconditional return of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ancestral remains from overseas collections and the safe return of Indigenous ancestral remains and secret sacred objects held in major Australian museums to their communities of origin, contributing to healing and reconciliation.

For more than 150 years Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ancestral remains and secret sacred objects were removed from their communities for various reasons and placed in museums, universities and private collections in Australia and overseas. During the 19th and 20th centuries medical officers, anatomists, ethnologists, anthropologists, and pastoralists collected ancestral remains for ‘scientific’ research linked to explaining human biological differences.

We work with all stakeholders, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, other Australian Government agencies, Australian museums, state, territory and local governments, collecting institutions and overseas governments and institutions.

The Advisory Committee for Indigenous Repatriation advises the government on policy and program issues about Indigenous repatriation from Australian and overseas collections.

The Indigenous Repatriation Program supports:

  • inventory and provenance research
  • community visits in Australia by museum staff
  • consultants to help communities coordinate returns
  • museum visits by community representatives to identify ancestral remains and secret sacred objects
  • travel for community representatives to collect ancestral remains and secret sacred objects (in Australia only)
  • travel for community representatives to collect ancestral remains from overseas
  • preparation, packing, transportation and freight of ancestral remains and secret sacred objects for return.

There are two major components:

Contact

Email: repatriation [at] arts.gov.au

Documents

Questions and Answers - Indigenous Repatriation Program - International

Published

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For more than 150 years, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ancestral remains were removed and sent to museums, universities and private collections both in Australia and overseas. They were collected by medical officers, anatomists, ethnologists, anthropologists and pastoralists. At the time of collection, ancestral remains from many Indigenous cultures around the world were highly sought after for scientific research and the value it was believed they added to collections.