International repatriation highlights
Aboriginal and Torres Islander ancestors return home from the United States of America
July 2022—United States of America
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.” 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 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 Department is continuing to progress discussions with other German institutions to facilitate further returns.
Three repatriation handover ceremonies were held across Germany to mark the return of 53 Australian Indigenous 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, while the Yawuru community in Broome Western Australia received seven Yawuru ancestors. The remaining ancestors will be 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, Australian Indigenous communities and German collecting institutions demonstrates the commitment to the respectful return of Australian Indigenous ancestors and the recognition of First Nations Peoples as the rightful custodians.
The ancestral remains 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. The Australian Government took stewardship of the remaining Old People where on return to Australia, further consultation will be undertaken with the Ngarrindjeri, Far West Coast, Kaurna and Flinders Ranges communities to facilitate their return to Country.
Two repatriation ceremonies were held in Sweden to mark the return of eight Australian Indigenous ancestors held at the University of Lund and Karolinska Institute. The eight ancestors were returned to Australia under the stewardship of the Australian Government. A Kaurna Old Person will be returned to traditional custodians from Kaurna Nation based in South Australia. The remaining Australian Indigenous ancestors will be placed in temporary care while further provenance research is undertaken to determine their communities of origin.
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 Australian Aboriginal ancestral remains from Canada under the Australian Government's Indigenous Repatriation Program. The Wardandi ancestor was returned by a Private Collector based in Vancouver.
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, will now be able to rebury their ancestor and lay her spirit to rest on Country. This is the second repatriation of Australian Indigenous ancestral remains from Germany in 2017.
The Australian Embassy in Berlin held a repatriation ceremony to return three Australian Indigenous ancestors from 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. 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. A unnamed Queensland ancestor was also returned from the Charité Medical University in Berlin. The Queensland Museum is undertaking provenance research on this ancestor to determine their community of origin.
In a moving handover ceremony in London, the remains of 13 Australian Indigenous 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.