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
Eighteen ancestors were returned during a handover ceremony hosted jointly by the Oxford University Museum of Natural History and Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. One Old Person from the Lake Hawdon/Guichen Bay area of South Australia was returned to a community representative from the South East First Nations, and seventeen ancestors were returned under the stewardship of the Australian Government.
The South East First Nations Elders Group nominated Robyn Campbell as their community representative to travel overseas to receive the Lake Hawdon Old Person and accompany the Old Person home. The Old Person will be held in temporary care until the community is ready to return the Old Person to Country.
Robyn Campbell commented that 'we have been made sick and worried about what happened to our Old People, always knowing our relationship and connection to Country is the foundation of our culture and ways of living. Our ways determine the importance of always remaining connected to Country, so our ancestor's removal to an alien museum environment has been a source of great distress and shame. The return of our Old People is to fulfil our cultural obligations and we hope it will contribute to our recovery as First Nations people.'
A representative of the Australian Government accompanied the other seventeen ancestors to Australia so they can be cared for closer to home.
The Australian Government is continuing to progress discussions with other institutions in the United Kingdom to facilitate future returns.
In a handover ceremony hosted by the Smithsonian Institute, National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. Two ancestors were returned to representatives from Narungga Nation of Yorke Peninsula, South Australia; Kaurna Nation, Adelaide, South Australia and 23 ancestors were returned under the stewardship of the Australian Government.
Representatives from Narungga and Kaurna Nations received their respective ancestors and accompanied them home. They will be held in temporary care until to communities are ready to return them to Country. Douglas Milera commented that “my Narungga community continues to mourn the devastating loss of our ancestors who were taken from their homelands and this repatriation is vital for our Community to now start the healing process of bringing them home and for our ancestors’ spirits to rest in peace on Country”. In October 2022, the Narrunga community returned their ancestor to Country for final resting.
This sentiment was echoed by Allan Sumner who said “the repatriation process involves both Aboriginal people and the institutions who wrongfully took our old people away. This is an opportunity to recognise the wrongs of the past and unite together in the spirit of reconciliation. But more importantly to come together to honour the spirits of the ancestors who are now coming home”.
Representatives of the Australian Government accompanied the 23 ancestors home where they will be placed in temporary care while further provenance research will be undertaken to identify their traditional custodians. The Department is continuing to progress discussions with other institutions in the United States of America to facilitate further returns.
The remains of 45 ancestors were returned to Australia from the State Ethnographic Collections of Saxony. Representatives from Gunaikurnai, Victoria, Ngarrindjeri, South Australia and Menang, Western Australia travelled to Germany to receive and accompany their ancestors' home.
Gunaikurnai representative, Bianca Baxter commented that repatriation is about healing "our ancestors deserve to be laid to rest at home on Country, and there is comfort in knowing they are back where they belong". The repatriation of ancestors is essential to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Megan Krouker from the Menang community said “the repatriation of our ancestors is about honouring our people, and bringing them to Country to bury them the right way in accordance with our traditions. This contributes to healing the past trauma that is still felt today”.
The Department is continuing to progress discussions with other German institutions to advocate for the repatriation of ancestors and facilitate further returns.
Media Release—45 ancestors to be repatriated from Germany
Three repatriation handover ceremonies were held across Germany to mark the return of over 53 ancestors from the Munich Five Continents Museum, the Linden-Museum Stuttgart, the University of Freiburg, Martin Luther University Halle and the State Ethnographic Collections Saxony.
Community representatives from the Gimuy Walubara Yidindji community, Cairns, Queensland received their Ancestral King, returned from the Five Continents Museum in Munich. Gudju Gudju Fourmille commented “we are active advocates for the return of ancient ancestors to Country, so that their spirit can rest and their Country and people can stop searching”.
The Yawuru community in Broome Western Australia received 15 Yawuru ancestors. Yawuru representative David Puertollano commented “I am very honoured to be involved in this historical moment for our community. We are bringing our old people home to Yawuru Buru where they belong and to keep our liyan strong”.
The remaining ancestors were accompanied back to Australia under stewardship of the Australian Government where further community consultation and research will be undertaken to return the ancestors to Country. The ongoing work between the Australian Government, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and German collecting institutions demonstrates the commitment to the respectful return of ancestors and the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the rightful custodians.
The ancestors of over 30 South Australian Old People have been returned to Australia from the Natural History Museum in London. Two Narungga community representatives from South Australia attended the ceremony in London to receive and accompany their Old Person home. Narungga representative Mr. Doug Milera commented “the fact that we are bringing them home now means that the anger and frustration can subside”.
The Australian Government took stewardship of the remaining Old People at the time of return. Further consultation will be undertaken with the Ngarrindjeri, Far West Coast, Flinders Ranges and Kaurna communities to facilitate their return to Country.
In July 2019 over 30 Kaurna people travelled to Canberra to receive the Old People and accompany them back to Country where they were reburied.
Two repatriation ceremonies were held in Sweden to mark the return of eight ancestors held at the University of Lund and Karolinska Institute. The eight ancestors were returned to Australia under the stewardship of the Australian Government. Seven ancestors are being held under in temporary care while further provenance research is undertaken to determine their communities of origin.
On return to Australia the Kaurna Old Person was returned to traditional custodians from Kaurna Nation, Adelaide. Traditional custodians received the ancestor, along with another Kaurna ancestor previously returned from Austria. Both ancestors were reburied on Country in Adelaide. Kaurna Elder Jeffrey Newchurch said “it is humbling to be able to lay to rest these Kaurna Old People on Country”.
A female Wardandi ancestor from the Margaret River region of Western Australia has been returned to her traditional custodians. The ceremony was held at the Australian High Commission in Ottawa and marks the first repatriation of ancestors from Canada supported by the Australian Government. The Wardandi ancestor was returned by a Private Collector based in Vancouver.
A Representative of the Wardandi community, Tahn Donovan, travelled to Ottawa to accompany her Old Person home. Ms Donovan stated “We all feel quite sad about our ancestor being taken, but want to ensure her repatriation encourages others to return ancestors to traditional custodians here in Australia in the future”.
In May 2020 the Wardandi community returned their ancestor to Country, where she will rest undisturbed.
A repatriation ceremony was held at the State Museum of Hannover, Germany, to return a female ancestor to her community, the Lama Lama family group of Port Stewart, Queensland. This was the second repatriation of ancestors from Germany in 2017.
The Lama Lama People commented on the return of their ancestor, “Bringing her home, touches on our shared pain and our untold histories. For us, it is important that the past is set right for her and our ancestors”.
The Lama Lama Community, returned their ancestor directly to Country, they laid her spirit to rest in November 2017.
The Australian Embassy in Berlin hosted a repatriation ceremony to return three ancestors who were held at three German collecting institutions. Far north Queensland ancestor King Ng:tja, Barry Clarke, was returned to his direct descendants of the Ngadjon-Jii community, from the Berlin Society of Anthropology, Ethnology and Prehistory. King Ng:tja was reinterred on Country by his descendants in May 2021.
The Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum in Frankfurt returned an unnamed ancestor to traditional custodians from the Clarence River region of New South Wales. An unnamed Queensland ancestor was also returned from the Charité Medical University in Berlin under Australian Government stewardship. Further provenance research is being undertaken to support the return of this ancestor to their traditional custodians.
In a moving handover ceremony in London, 13 ancestors were returned by four institutions to traditional owners and representatives from communities in Western Australia, South Australia and to the Advisory Committee for Indigenous Repatriation. The Royal Pavilion and Museums Brighton, the University of Birmingham, the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and the University of Cambridge from the United Kingdom participated in the official repatriation ceremony.
The Hampshire Cultural Trust in Winchester held a ceremony to handover remains of an Australian Indigenous ancestor. Originally removed from Kempsey, the ancestor was taken to the United Kingdom in the1960s. Dunghutti community representatives from Kempsey in New South Wales took custodianship of their ancestor who was returned to Country.
A private holder in the United States of America returned the remains of a New South Wales Indigenous ancestor to traditional custodians. This ancestor was returned to Country on the north coast of New South Wales.
The Charité University Hospital in Berlin returned the remains of 14 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ancestors to representatives of Indigenous communities in Western Australia and the Torres Strait Islands. This is the second repatriation from the Charité and demonstrates the commitment from Germany to work with Indigenous Australian communities to repatriate ancestral remains.
In a separate ceremony, the Charité also returned a Robbins Island ancestor to traditional custodians of Tasmania. This ancestor was returned to Country and reburied in a private ceremony.
Tasmanian Aboriginal representatives travelled to the United States of America to receive three ancestors from the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. The Museum acquired the ancestral remains in 1958 as part of a collection of artefacts gathered in the late 19th century. The representatives participated in a ceremony and accompanied their ancestors' home.
The Charité University Hospital in Berlin returned 33 Australian Indigenous ancestors. This was the first return of Australian Indigenous ancestral remains from Germany through the Indigenous Repatriation Program. The ancestors were from communities in South Australia, Queensland, New South Wales and Western Australia. On return to Australia, 11 ancestors were returned to community in a moving ceremony in far north Queensland.
The Moravian Museum in Brno, Czech Republic, held a handover ceremony to return eight Australian Indigenous ancestors belonging to six communities in Arnhem Land. These were the only known Australian Indigenous ancestral remains held in the Czech Republic.
A known Australian Indigenous ancestor from New South Wales was repatriated from the Harvard Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Washington D.C. The ancestor was held by the Museum since the late 19th century. The ancestor was accompanied home and returned to Country.
Stanford University in California returned two Australian Indigenous ancestors to Australia. These ancestors were placed in the temporary care of the National Museum of Australia so further provenance research can be undertaken to determine the communities of origin.
Three Australian Indigenous ancestors from Glasgow Museums and one mummified ancestor from National Museums Liverpool were returned to Australia. The ancestors were placed in the temporary care of the National Museum of Australia so further provenance research can be undertaken to identify a community of origin and a final resting place be determined.
The repatriation of 30 Australian Indigenous ancestors was facilitated from the Austrian Academy of Science and The Pathology and Anatomy Museum in Vienna, Austria. The ancestors were handed back to five traditional owners and custodians from New South Wales, Queensland and the Northern Territory.
The Natural History Museum in London announced they would repatriate over 130 Torres Strait Islander ancestors to their communities of origin. The Natural History Museum returned three Australian Indigenous ancestors after this announcement and another 19 ancestors in November 2011. Other returns will occur as communities are ready.
The National Museums Liverpool returned the ancestral remains of a young Torres Strait Islander child to traditional custodians. The ancestor was returned to Erub (Darnley Island) in the Torres Strait.
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, Washington DC returned nine Australian Indigenous ancestors to representatives from Indigenous communities in Arnhem Land. The ancestors were taken from their burial places during the 1948 American-Australian Scientific Expedition to Arnhem Land. Traditional owners performed ceremony and accompanied their ancestors' back to Country.