October 18, 2007

British museum agrees to return Aboriginal remains to Australia

Posted at 4:24 pm in Similar cases

More coverage of the decision by National Museums Liverpool to return Aboriginal remains to Australia.

International Herald Tribune

British museum agrees to return Aboriginal remains to Australia
The Associated Press
Published: October 16, 2007

LONDON: A second British museum has agreed to return Aboriginal remains to Australia, including bones collected by explorers in 1849.

National Museums Liverpool said it has decided to turn over the remains of three bodies, unconditionally fulfilling a request made by Australia in January 2006.

The remains will be returned because they carry “strong cultural, spiritual and religious significance to Australian aboriginal communities,” the museum in northwest England said in a statement Monday.

No date has been set for their return to their original communities. Until then, remains will be kept at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra, officials said.

In Australia, Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough welcomed the promise, saying: “We encourage other institutions that have yet to consider Australia’s claims to follow in National Museums Liverpool’s footsteps.”

The pledge follows a much more controversial dispute between Tasmanian Aborigines and the Natural History Museum in London for the return of 17 remains.

After a 20-year dispute that involved a lawsuit, teeth, skulls and skeletons looted in the 19th century from Tasmania, an island south of Australia were turned over to the Tasmanian Aboriginal Center in May.

Aborigines believe the deceased cannot freely enter the spirit world until their remains are returned to their homeland, and that tampering can cause spiritual harm.

National Museums Liverpool said none of its Aboriginal remains had been publicly displayed or used for research. The remains include remains collected in 1849 from the Darnley Islands in the Torres Strait between Australia and New Guinea, and remains believed to have originated in north Queensland.

A skull — believed to be of mixed Australian and European ancestry — was purchased by a British doctor during his visit to Australia in the early 1900s.

Since 2004, when Britain passed a law allowing its museums to return human remains less than 1,000 years old, Australia has requested the return of 450 sets of body parts.

Two American Indian tribes have also submitted demands.

Since 1996, more than 1,000 Indigenous remains have been returned to Australia from other countries.


On the Net:

National Museums Liverpool, http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk

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