Ngarrindjeri ancestral remains handed back in London

A delegation of Indigenous Australians has met with officials at the British Museum, negotiating the future return of old artefacts stripped from native lands.

They are trying to set up a deal where they take the old artefacts back "home to country", and make replicas using traditional methods for the museum to use in their place.

Delegation member Major Sumner, from the Ngarrindjeri community, said the conversation at the museum had gone well.

"Some museums are not Aboriginal-friendly," Mr Sumner said.

"We want to start up a conversation, build up a relationship that's good for both sides.

"But our main reason for being in London is to get our old people's remains and take them home."

A handover ceremony for the ancestral remains of 13 Aboriginal Australians took place at Australia House in London on Friday.

The remains came from the collections of Royal Pavilion and Museums Brighton, University of Birmingham, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and the University of Cambridge.

One such piece was an old skull turned into a drinking vessel.

"That's part of our practice, we have the skulls of important people and drink the water so that their knowledge and wisdom will go into us," Mr Sumner said.

"Now they're classed as 'modified objects' in museums.

“Tomorrow the one from Brighton is being handed over.

“Then we'll take it back home."

The Ngarrindjeri have to create new ceremonies for reburial of such objects – smoking ceremonies, songs, dances and the summoning of ancestors' spirits.

"We have an obligation to our peoples who are held over here," said Grant Rigney, also from the Ngarrindjeri.

"There are spiritual values to these materials.

“We have an obligation to get these home, to rebury in country.

"They were dug up and carted to museums all over the world.

“We have to put them back to rest in country so their spirit can be at rest and can move on into the next world."

In the long term the delegation wants to set up a system that will work without them and survive them, so the repatriation of thousands of objects can continue.

The Australian government provides some support, through its Indigenous Repatriation Program which helps with research, identification of remains and travel for community representatives.

But the delegation said they needed more support from state governments, to pay for the time and work needed for repatriation and reburial.


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