New website to help return Indigenous Ancestral Remains to Australia

A new website launched today will help return Indigenous Ancestral Remains long held in museums and other collections around the world to their local communities.

The Return Reconcile Renew website forms part of a major repatriation project led by The Australian National University (ANU).

Project lead, ANU Associate Professor Cressida Fforde, said the website will help raise awareness of the value and meaning of repatriation of Indigenous Ancestral Remains in Australia, as well as across the world.

“This is the first stage in the launch of a facility designed to assist in the repatriation of Ancestral Remains,” she said. “It also aims to increase awareness and understanding about the history of the removal and return of human remains.

“The Ancestral Remains of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are housed in museums and other collecting institutions across the globe. They were taken during the earliest days of colonisation and from funerary areas, sites of violent conflict and even hospital morgues.

“They were taken for scientific research, as well as to sell. And despite successful campaigns from Indigenous peoples from the 1970s leading to a significant change in policies, many museums around the globe still refuse to repatriate Ancestral Remains.”

Three Indigenous community organisations played a leading role in the website’s development – the Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Culture Centre, the Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority and the Gur A Baradharaw Kod Torres Strait Islander Corporation. 

“Key to the website’s success has been the leading role played by Indigenous partner organisations,” Associate Professor Fforde said. 

The new website also includes the voices of community members from the Torres Strait, the Kimberley in Western Australia and Ngarrindjeri country in South Australia.

Neil Carter, Repatriation Officer from the Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Culture Centre, has been working on repatriation for more than 10 years and helped develop the new website.

“In the last few years I have been working with the Ngarrindjeri peoples from South Australia, the Torres Strait and The Australian National University to put together this website which helps tell the story of repatriation for these organisations,” Mr Carter said.

“People can see stories of how our Ancestral Remains were taken away and how our people are working to bring these Remains back.

“There’s a connection between the spirits and the land. And this has been broken when those Remains were taken away.

“We need to bring those Remains back and put them back in the country so that that connection can be reconnected and the country can feel that our ancestors are back home.”

Project member, Professor Daryle Rigney from the University of Technology Sydney, said the website has a strong focus on repatriation to Australia but can be applied to other countries – including New Zealand and the USA.

“Repatriation of Ancestral Remains is a story of incredible perseverance and success, which has led to major shifts in museum policies everywhere. It’s also a fundamental part of reconciliation. But there is more important work to be done,” he said.

“We will add more resources to the website in 2020. This will include detailed information for practitioners and researchers working in this important area.

“We will also add detailed information for community partner organisations about the holdings of their Ancestral Remains in domestic and international institutions.”

The website is available at www.returnreconcilerenew.info.  

For media assistance, contact James Giggacher on +61 436 803 488 or the ANU Media Team on +612 6125 7979 or media@anu.edu.au

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