May 13, 2007

Tasmanian remains return home after twenty years of argument

Posted at 12:39 pm in Similar cases

The Tasmanian Aboriginal remains in the Natural History Museum are finally returning to their homeland after many years of requests & refusals.

International Herald Tribune

Britain returns remains of Tasmanian Aborigines after 20-year wrangle
The Associated Press
Published: May 11, 2007

LONDON: Teeth, skulls and skeletons looted from Tasmania in the 19th Century were handed to Aboriginal rights campaigners by a London museum Friday, after a 20-year struggle for their return.

Remains of 17 Aborigines have been held by the Natural History Museum since the 1940s, but will be flown Saturday to Tasmania, an island 200 kilometers (125 miles) south of mainland Australia.

The fragments, the oldest of which dates back to 1839, will be buried in a ceremony next month, the Tasmanian Aboriginal Center said.

“We can return them home to rest their tormented souls,” said Greg Brown, of the center — which first demanded the return of the remains in 1985.

The museum agreed last year to return the fragments, but said they had the right to continue research — taking photographs, extracting DNA and shaving off slivers from teeth and skulls.

That decision touched off a bitter dispute, and the center sued the British museum, arguing the work would defile the remains.

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.

Museum officials argued the relics are of special scientific value, because they date back to a time when the island had genetically unique inhabitants.

Under an agreement, some genetic material previously extracted from the bones will be held in Tasmania and may be used in future joint tests.

The Natural History Museum holds Britain’s national collection of human remains: about 19,500 specimens, from complete skeletons to a single finger bone. The collection, with samples from around the world covering a time span of 500,000 years, was legally acquired from other museums and collections, officials said.

Since 2004 — when a law passed that allowed British museums to return human remains less than 1,000 years old — Australia had requested the return of 450 sets of body parts. Two American Indian tribes have also submitted demands.

Newswire (New Zealand)

Aborigines’ Remains On Way Home
7:55 am, 13 May 2007
A British museum has handed over their remains of 17 Tasmanian Aborigines to be returned to Australia.

Greg Brown and Caroline Spotswood of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre were given the remains of their ancestors by the Natural History Museum in London on Friday after a mediation process saw the groups reach an agreement.

The remains will be taken back to Tasmania, where they will be buried in a traditional ceremony.

As part of the agreement, DNA samples collected from the remains by the museum, before a court injunction stopping such testing, will also be taken to Tasmania. Those samples will be in joint custody of the Aboriginal centre and the museum, with future negotiations required if the samples need to be used for any research.

“We can now return our old people to their country to rest their tormented souls, to mend the land, to heal our people, and to let their spirits rest through a traditional burial and ceremony,” an emotional Mr Brown said.

“Today, as we take possession of our old people, and tomorrow when we leave this country for our lands, the healing will begin. Our old people are with us and watching us today. The air is bright, they are happy, and so are we.”

The remains were taken from Tasmania in the 19th century and found their way into the museum’s collection in the 1940s through donations and transfers from other institutions.

After a change in British law, the museum agreed to repatriate the remains.

© NewsRoom 2007

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