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More Aboriginal skulls return home

Following on from their successes in Scotland, the Ngarrindjeri have also collected skulls of their ancestors from Exeter’s Royal Albert Memorial Museum to be returned to Australia.

It is worth remembering again, that the current reunifications of Aboriginal artefacts only happened after a change in the law allowed many of the countries larger museums to over-rule the anti-deaccessioning clauses in their own charters & return these pieces. Once various key institutions had returned pieces, many smaller museums and galleries followed their example.

BBC News [1]

Page last updated at 09:48 GMT, Wednesday, 9 July 2008 10:48 UK
Aboriginal skulls returning home

Four Aboriginal skulls, which have formed part of a British museum’s collection for more than 100 years, are to be returned to Australia.

The 19th century human remains were donated to Exeter’s Royal Albert Memorial Museum by someone who claimed to have been given them.

They are being returned to members of the Ngarrinderi people at a ceremony on Wednesday.

A museum spokesman said the skulls had never been on public display.

The Ngarrindjeri people have been working for a number of years to have their ancestors’ remains returned from museums around the world.

Tom Trevorrow, chair of the Ngarrindjeri Nation Heritage Committee, said: “The Ngarrindjeri People of South Australia are truly thankful to the Royal Albert Memorial Museum for returning our Old People’s remains back to us so that they can be laid to rest once again in their own birth land.

“We have been waiting a long time for this process to take place.

“It is a contribution to the healing of wrongful and hurtful colonising practices… and a step towards reconciliation.”

Kevin Mitchell, from Exeter City Council said the authority was: “delighted to be able to help the Ngarrindjeri people with their quest to have their ancestors returned.”

Aborigines believe the spirits of their ancestors cannot rest in peace until their bones are buried in their native ground.

Daily Telegraph [2]

Aboriginal dance causes evacuation of museum
By Laura Clout
Last Updated: 2:49PM BST 10/07/2008

Aboriginal elders caused a British museum to be evacuated when a ceremony to reclaim ancient bones set off the fire alarm.

The delegation had travelled from Australia to the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter, Devon to recover four skulls which were plundered by explorers 140 years ago.

But as they carried out a cleansing ritual over the remains, ceremonial incense set off the smoke alarms and everyone in the building was evacuated into the pouring rain.

Major Moogie Sumner, a leader of the Ngarrindjeri people from South Australia, had invited local councillors and other dignitaries to the event and all had donned aboriginal face paint to join in the spirit of the occasion.

Although technicians thought they had turned off the alarm, a safety override caused it to activate anyway, and Aborigines and councillors ended up sodden on the pavement.

The 19th-century remains were donated to the museum by somebody who claimed to have been given them, but have never been on public display.

The Ngarrindjeri people, native to the Lower Murray River and Coorong areas near Adelaide, have been campaigning for their return for over 14 years.

Major Sumner said his dance, involving ceremonial boomerangs and an incense burner, was to purge the museum of any evil influences caused by their holding the bones so far away from their proper resting place.

He said: “It is unfortunate the alarm went off but this has happened to us before in places we have carried out cleansing ceremonies.

“The smoke in our spiritual dance gets quite thick at times and we would have performed it outside but for the rain.

“We still wish to thank the people of Exeter and the museum for recognizing the importance of these bones and returning them to us as a gesture of goodwill.”

Ngarrindjeri elder George Trevorrow said: “This is a positive step spiritually and culturally and a healing of wrongful and hurtful colonial practices.”

Exeter City Council’s environmental leader Councillor Kevin Mitchell, who painted his face in red and white stripes for the ceremony, said he was honoured to return the bones.

He said: “We gladly give them back so they can find peace in their country of origin.”

Aborigines believe that the spirits of their ancestors cannot rest in peace until their bones are buried in their native ground.

They have appealed to the British and Australian governments for over two decades to help them repatriate their ancestors’ remains, which range from locks of hair to entire skeletons.

Reacting to pressure from Aborigines and other indigenous groups, British law was changed in 2003 to allow museums to return remains that are believed to be under 1,000 years old.