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Ancestors returned home from State Ethnographic Collections, Saxony

November 2022—Germany

Images of the ceremony when returning the ancestors back home to Australia.

In a handover ceremony hosted by the Grassi Museum in Leipzig, Germany five ancestors were returned to their Traditional Custodians. First Nations representatives from the Gannagal, Worimi, Awabakal and Mutthi Mutthi communities in New South Wales travelled to Germany to receive their respective ancestors and accompany them home. One ancestor was returned under stewardship of the Australian Government to be 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.' On 19 December 2022 the Worimi Nation returned their ancestor to Country for their final resting. Jamie Tarrant from Worimi Nation noted that the return of the Worimi ancestor to their traditional lands brings a sense of relief and healing to the people of the Worimi Nation. 'There is comfort in knowing that our ancestor is back where they belong on Country.'

The significance of returning ancestors to Country was a shared sentiment 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 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.'

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.

Media release—Returning First Nations ancestors back to Country