The Australian Government has supported the return of over 1600 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ancestral remains (ancestors) from overseas institutions and private holders for over 30 years.

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Ancestors returned home from State Ethnographic Collections, Saxony

November 2022 – Germany

In a handover ceremony hosted by the Grassi Museum in Leipzig, Germany six ancestors were returned to their Traditional Custodians and Australian Government representatives. First Nations representatives Gannagal, Worimi, Awabakal and Mutthi Mutthi Country in New South Wales travelled to Germany to receive their respective ancestors and accompany them home and one ancestor will be returned under stewardship of the Australian Government to be cared for closer to home.

David Feeney from Worimi Nation reflected that “Aboriginal ancestors were removed from Australia, sent overseas and placed in museums and universities and private collections and healing will start when our people are back on Country.” This is a sentiment shared by the delegation.

“It is important that our ancestors are returned and buried on their traditional lands by their people in accordance with Aboriginal lore and customs. Repatriating our ancestors and being part of this process is helping to retain our culture, bringing healing and justice to the unjust treatment of our people since colonisation” said Rowena Welsh, Gannagal representative.

The State Ethnographic Collections of Saxony acknowledged that the repatriation of ancestors is central to how they operate which includes adhering to an ethic of mindfulness and respect. This means prioritising the needs and concerns of the Traditional Custodians and forming new relationships. Included in this approach is the acceptance of historical responsibility towards the descendants of communities affected by colonial violence.

The return of ancestors from overseas is the first part of the journey home. The community representatives will accompany their ancestors’ back to Australia, and then make the appropriate arrangements for their final resting. “It is vital that the remains of Aboriginal people be returned to Country to ensure the passing of spirit to the next plane. By returning our ancestors back to Country we can heal our community and heal our Country to its rightful position as best we can”, said Kumarah Kelly, Awabakal representative.

Kaleana Reyland, Mutthi Mutthi representative also stated that “to return ancestors back to Country is our cultural obligation and inherit right. Returning our ancestor is very significant and we will continue the journey of returning our ancestors back home, on Country and hope that the younger generations don’t have this heavy burden to carry.”

Media release: Returning First Nations ancestors back to Country