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

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website may contain images and names of people who have since passed away

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.

Australian Government Policy on Indigenous Repatriation

The Australian Government Policy on Indigenous Repatriation was established in 2011. In 2016, it was updated to reflect the change in Department name.

Indigenous Repatriation Program

The Indigenous Repatriation Program provides support for :

  • 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.

Other Australian Government Repatriation Programs

The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS)

In July 2020, the Australian Government announced four year funding for AIATSIS to implement the Return of Cultural Heritage Initiative (the Initiative). The Initiative seeks to return Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage material from overseas collecting institutions, governments and private holders back to their original custodians and owners. To find out more about the Initiative, visit the AIATSIS website.

Department of Veterans' Affairs

The Department of Veterans' Affairs is responsible for the policy on the repatriation of Australian soldiers buried overseas. To find out more, visit the Department of Veterans Affairs website.

Contact

Email: repatriation@arts.gov.au.

Documents

Questions and answers—international repatriation

Published

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.