September 27, 2010

US returns indigenous Australian remains

Posted at 9:12 pm in Similar cases

The Smithsonian Institute has returned the remains of nine Aborigines to Australia. This follows the numerous recent examples set by museums in the UK who have returned similar remains under the terms of the Human Tissue Act.

The Australian

Ancestral remains returning from US
Lanai Vasek
The Australian
July 05, 2010 12:00AM

THE ancestral remains of nine indigenous Australians will finally return home today after 60 years in a museum in the US.

The remains — taken from their burial places during the 1948 American-Australian Scientific Expedition to Arnhem Land — were handed back to indigenous representatives at a traditional smoking ceremony in Washington DC over the weekend.

The body parts have been in a collection at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of Natural History in the US capital since their arrival 62 years ago.

Traditional owners from Groote Eylandt, Gunbalanya and Milingimbi in the Northern Territory received the remains and began their journey back to Australia yesterday.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda said the return of the remains was “absolutely the right thing to do”.

“It’s such an important step that finally we’re not being treated as specimens to be prodded and gawked at around the world,” Mr Gooda told The Australian yesterday.

“Those remains were taken without consent, it’s like welcoming home long-lost relatives . . . their spirits can finally be laid to rest.”

Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin said while the latest repatriation was admirable, there was still “a long way to go”.

“The Australian government commends the Smithsonian Institute for initiating this return and for recognising the great significance it has for indigenous Australians,” Ms Macklin said.

“(We are) committed to the unconditional return of indigenous remains from overseas countries and institutions.”

The latest repatriation effort follows the 2008 return of 74 ancestral remains — 33 of which were from the Smithsonian — to Gunbalanya and Groote Eylandt.

The Smithsonian was the first major American institute to have returned indigenous remains.

It follows the British Museum’s decision to return cremated ashes of Tasmanian Aborigines in 2006.

Since 1990 around 1150 indigenous skeletons have been brought back to Australia from six countries.

More than 1000 sets of Aboriginal remains are still held in museums around the world.

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