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Natural History Museum will not return Aboriginal remains

Following the publicity last week [1] surrounding the return of artefacts to Tasmanian Aboriginals by the British Museum, there were hopes that other museums in the UK would follow this example. It appears though, that the Natural History (originally a part of the British Museum, but now a separate institution in its own right) is unwilling to follow this example & return any pieces from its own more extensive collection of human remains of Aboriginal origin. Most of the remains under discussion are not on public display in the Museum, so can only be seen with special permission.

The Australian [2]

Source: AAP
Brits ‘unwilling to return Aboriginal remains’
By Robyn Grace
September 12, 2006

BRITAIN’S Natural History Museum appears unwilling to return Aboriginal remains collected in Tasmania in the 1800s, the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre said today.

Centre spokesman Michael Mansell now wants Prime Minister John Howard to apply diplomatic pressure to have British law amended to make the return of human remains compulsory.

The British Government recently introduced the Human Tissue Act, which allows museums to repatriate remains.

Tasmanian Aborigines have been lobbying for more than 20 years for the return of ancestral remains.

“It strikes at the very soul of the people,” Mr Mansell said.

An Aboriginal delegation met with museum management in London overnight as part of a two-week mission to retrieve human remains from museums across Europe.

The delegation was told the Natural History Museum would establish an advisory body to investigate the return but the “reality is the staff … indicated we can go jump,” Mr Mansell said.

“The museum’s position was they are still unconvinced about why Tasmanian Aborigines should have the remains of our ancestors back,” he told ABC Radio.

“They don’t understand anything about the cultural and spiritual and religious obligations we have to our dead.”

Delegates had hoped the museum would follow the lead of the British Museum, which this week returned the state’s last two remaining cremation ash bundles.

The extent of the Natural History Museum’s collection is unknown but is believed to contain ashes and skeletal remains.

Mr Mansell said hunting parties in Tasmania in the 1800s killed many Aboriginals to donate their remains to science.

“We know that our old people were terribly tormented in their lifetime,” he said.

“The fact that some of them were murdered so these institutions could have their remains is horrific.”

Mr Mansell said efforts to repatriate remains in English museums had been further stymied by interference of representatives from the Australian Government’s Office of Indigenous Policy Coordination (OIPC).

Museums had been told they should only be dealing with OIPC, not the Tasmanian delegates, he said.

“This has allowed the museums to play the Aboriginal delegates off against the federal government officials,” he said.

“The result is that the museums are able to refuse to hand over their collections because the museums rely on arguing that there are now competing claims.”

Delegates from the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre will return to the state on Friday.