Media Release by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Indigenous traditional owners to bring home remains from the United States

Nine Indigenous ancestral remains have been handed back to representatives from Indigenous communities in Arnhem Land at a ceremony in the United States this weekend.

The remains were taken from their burial places during the 1948 American-Australian Scientific Expedition to Arnhem Land.

Since then the remains have been in collection at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of Natural History.

Traditional owners from Groote Eylandt, Gunbalanya and Milingimbi received the ancestral remains during a ceremony at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington DC.

A traditional smoking ceremony was performed by Thomas Amagula from Groote Eylandt, Victor Gumurdul from Gunbalanya and Dr Joe Gumbula from Milingimbi, to cleanse the remains before their journey back to Australia.

The Australian Government commends the Smithsonian Institute for initiating this return and for recognising the great significance it has for Indigenous Australians.

This repatriation follows the 2008 return of 74 ancestral remains to Gunbalanya and Groote Eylandt, also collected during the 1948 expedition to Arnhem Land.

The Australian Government is committed to the unconditional return of Indigenous remains from overseas countries and institutions.

More than 1000 Indigenous Australian ancestral remains are held in museums around the world, and there is still a long way to go to repatriate them all.

Since 1990 more than 1,150 Indigenous remains have been brought back to Australia from six countries.

We believe repatriation must be culturally appropriate, unconditional and inclusive of Indigenous aspirations.

The Australian Government will continue to work with Indigenous people, overseas governments, museums and private collections to improve the repatriation process.

We will soon receive a report from the all-Indigenous International Repatriation Advisory Committee that was appointed late last year.

The report will review the current process for the international repatriation of Indigenous ancestral remains and detail how to make the process more strategic and inclusive of Indigenous aspirations.