Cultural heritage coming home from the US

Release Date: 
9 September 2019
Media release

Minister for Indigenous Australians, the Hon Ken Wyatt AM MP, has today announced that 42 culturally significant objects will soon be brought home from the United States of America.

The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) has been working in close partnership with the Aranda people of Central Australia and the Bardi Jawi people of Cape Leveque to negotiate the unconditional repatriation of the 42 items from the Illinois State Museum.

“Cultural artefacts are uniquely connected to the place they are created. That connection to country should be honoured by returning artefacts home,” Minister Wyatt said. “Repatriating artefacts is an important process that promotes healing and reconciliation, and ultimately fosters truth-telling about our history.”

The return is the first repatriation to occur as part of the Return of Cultural Heritage Project being led by AIATSIS and marks a new direction in repatriation for the Australian Government.

AIATSIS Council Chairperson Jodie Sizer said bringing cultural heritage material home is a key aspiration of Indigenous communities.

“These items embody generations of our knowledge and cultural practices. Their return not only encourages Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural resurgence, it also enriches Australia’s national story. We are very proud to have played a role in this repatriation on behalf of and with the permission of the Aranda and Bardi Jawi Nations,” Ms Sizer said.

Senior Aranda and Bardi Jawi Lawmen are looking forward to their objects returning home.

“On behalf of the Senior Ceremonial Leaders of Central Australia and beyond, I am very happy to hear and see that the artefacts will be coming back to their original beds and caves, where they will sleep for the rest of their time,” Aranda Senior Ceremonial Leader, Braydon Kantjira said. “Their return will bring back power and strength to our Dreamtime constitution. The men of the desert will be very grateful for the objects returning back home.”

“We’re excited and happy that our Bardi Jawi material is coming home and we believe that this is the right thing to do,” Senior Bardi Lawman, Kevin George said. “These items were taken a long time ago but we’re glad that the Illinois State Museum looked after them and are now retuning them back to the rightful tribe. The Bardi Jawi people are deeply saddened that many of our important things are missing and a lot more work needs to be done, but we’re glad that our items are starting to come home. We’d like to thank the Australian Government for their help.”

Aranda and Bardi Jawi representatives will travel to the USA in October to take custodianship of their material.