Media Release by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Repatriation of Indigenous remains

The Australian Government today called for museums and private collectors worldwide to work with the Government to return Indigenous remains.

Speaking at the International Conference on the Inclusive Museum in Brisbane today, the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin, said the Government was overhauling the processes for the repatriation of Australian remains from international institutions to make them more inclusive of Indigenous aspirations.

To help with this review, a new International Repatriation Advisory Committee will be appointed in September.

The Committee will advise the Government on a range of issues, including reviewing current international repatriation policy and finding a more effective way to deliver on international repatriation.

Over a period of more than 160 years – from 1788 to 1948 or later – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander remains were collected, usually without consent, by explorers, travellers and scientists and shipped off to museums and private collections in Australia and across the world.

In the past 18 months, more than 80 remains from five institutions in four countries were repatriated, including the recent return of three Indigenous Australians from the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.

About 1000 Indigenous Australian ancestral remains continue to be held in museums around the world, including the United Kingdom, Germany, France and the United States of America.

For Indigenous communities the return of their ancestors’ remains has great cultural significance – they believe the spirits of their ancestors cannot rest until they are “returned to Country”.

The Australian Government strongly believes the repatriation of Indigenous remains must occur respectfully, unconditionally and as quickly as possible, and will continue to work with countries to ensure the return of Indigenous remains.

The application process for positions on the International Repatriation Advisory Committee opens today.