February 13, 2007

Australian PM urged to step into row over testing on Aboriginal remains

Posted at 11:34 am in Similar cases

Australian Prime Minister John Howard has been urged to put pressure on Britain to put a stop to testing on Aboriginal remains prior to their restitution.

ABC News (Australia)

Howard urged to stop museum testing Indigenous remains
AM – Tuesday, 13 February , 2007 10:40:28
Reporter: Stephanie Kennedy
TONY EASTLEY: Last year in a landmark decision, Britain’s Natural History Museum agreed to return the remains of 17 Indigenous Tasmanians.

But before sending the remains back to Australia, the Museum wanted to collect scientific data.

That sparked an angry outcry from the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre, and it’s now fighting the Museum in the High Court in London.

Overnight an injunction was placed on any further testing until the case is heard later this month.

Now, the British lawyers arguing the case to stop the Museum from carrying out the scientific testing have called on John Howard to intervene.

Mark Stephens is one of the lawyers representing the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre and he spoke to Stephanie Kennedy in London.

MARK STEPHENS: They seem to have taken, this is the last ditch opportunity to undertake research on them, and the research is very invasive and intrusive and is offensive to Aboriginal beliefs.

It included slicing of the skulls and taking elements of the skull. It includes drilling into the bones, dismantling the skeletons and reassembling them and also other photographic techniques, which some Aboriginals believe take away the spirit.

And the spirit of course is in torment until all of these remains can actually be put back and dealt with in accordance with Aboriginal tradition on their traditional lands.

STEPHANIE KENNEDY: Given the remains will be cremated, doesn’t the Natural History Museum have a case for arguing that the data they collect now will be lost forever if the tests aren’t carried out?

MARK STEPHENS: I think there is an argument that says that. I think the problem with it is that they’ve had these remains for hundreds of years, and any examination could have taken place in that time.

Of course, there are other places which have Aboriginal remains, and there’s a huge amount of information, perhaps most importantly, huge amount of information documented about Tasmanian Aboriginal remains, particularly those that were the subject of the genocide in Tasmania.

And as a consequence of that, I think it’s really important that we should treat these remains with the respect that they deserve.

They shouldn’t be treated as scientific curios. There is nothing that is going to come out of this research, which is likely to benefit humankind or greater understanding of public knowledge. This is scientific curiosity at its most mawkish.

STEPHANIE KENNEDY: Do you think you’ll win the case?

MARK STEPHENS: I’m confident we’ll win the case. I’m just concerned that at the end of the day, it’s going to be an enormously expensive exercise, and I only wish that the Natural History Museum would cease its wicked activities, and return these remains quickly.

And I hope that Prime Minister Howard or the Australian Government really feel that this is important and they should be hauling on the special relationship and getting in touch with Tony Blair and telling him that he really ought to be instructing the Museum to hand these back in a way that doesn’t offend Aboriginal beliefs.

STEPHANIE KENNEDY: If this case is successful, would this have implications for other cases, such as returning the Elgin Marbles back to Greece?

MARK STEPHENS: I think that the Museum is very concerned about this, and of course, the judge raised the question of the Elgin Marbles today.

But of course, that is a slightly different case. There are any number of, for example, pharaohs in the British Museum. Nobody is suggesting that they have to be returned to Egypt because the people who have that belief system are no longer around.

That belief system has died out, whereas the Aboriginal belief system is still alive and well. And I think given the way in which the imperial British forces in the mid-1800s dealt with the Aboriginal peoples in Australia generally and in Tasmania in particular, the brutal way in which they were hunted down and killed and exterminated, I think we really do owe as British people, we owe a debt of honour to the Australian people, and the Aboriginal people in particular to return these remains in a way which is dignified and appropriate so that they can be dealt with appropriately by their people.

TONY EASTLEY: Mark Stephens, one of the lawyers representing the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre, speaking there with Stephanie Kennedy in London.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)

Possibly related articles

RSS feed for comments on this post · TrackBack URL

Leave a Comment

We want to hear your views. Be as critical or controversial as you like, but please don't get personal or offensive. Remember this is for feedback and constructive discussion!
Comments may be edited or removed if they do not meet these guidelines. Repeat offenders will be blocked from posting further comments. Any comment deemed libellous by Elginism's editors will be removed.
The commenting system uses some automatic spam detection and occasionally comments do not appear instantly - please do not repost comments if they do not show up straight away