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Australian government should have consulted Aborigines

Following the decision by the British Museum [1] to return Aboriginal cremation ashes to Tasmania, indigenous groups within the country are claiming that they were never consulted properly on the matter. From the results of the negotiations between Britain & Australia, it is clear that government-to-government negotiations can lead to a much faster resolution of the problem. However, at what point does this end up as a purely political exercise – artefacts leaving one country where their original owners have no control over them to be returned to another country where those who argued for the restitution still have little say in how they are managed? On the other hand, it is unclear at this point, if the complaint is one made by all Aboriginal groups, or only a small number who disagree with the way that the case has been handled.

From:
Sydney Morning Herald [2]

Aborigines ‘not consulted on remains’
April 6, 2006 – 7:49PM

The federal government is morally disgraceful for bringing back Aboriginal remains from England without consulting indigenous communities, an activist says.

Bob Weatherall, a lobbyist for the repatriation of Aboriginal remains and cultural artefacts, said the government had not consulted indigenous communities on the issue.

Last month, the government announced it would bring back Aboriginal remains from six British museums under a historic deal struck with Britain.

The museums are at Exeter, Cornwall, Bristol, Manchester, Tyne-and-Wear, as well as the British Museum in London.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough at the time said the remains would return to Australia once consultations with indigenous communities were complete.

But Mr Weatherall said indigenous communities had not been consulted, even though they should be doing the negotiating.

“We think it’s morally disgraceful that some people could interfere with the rights of the dead,” he said.

“There’s no involvement by Aboriginal people at all,” he said.

Mr Brough was trying to ride on the coat tails of the indigenous people who had been lobbying for years to have the remains returned, Mr Weatherall said.

He has written to Prime Minister John Howard asking him to intervene in the matter.

British museums hold about 40,000 Aboriginal artefacts and human remains collected almost from the time of first colonisation.

Some of the remains are the grandparents of people still alive.

Mr Weatherall, who used to work with the Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Actions, has raised similar concerns with the government previously.

In August 2003, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Services (ATSIS) announced that bureaucrats would take over all repatriation of Aboriginal remains from Britain from indigenous groups.

Mr Weatherall complained at the time that Aborigines were being sidelined.

But ATSIS argued a government-to-government approach between Australia and Britain would be more efficient.