Manchester Museum returns 174 Indigenous objects to island
The return of the artifacts to the Indigenous Australian community has been hailed as a leading example of cultural repatriation.
A UK museum is returning more than 174 artifacts to an Indigenous Australian community.
The return of the relics by the Manchester Museum is important because most repatriation programs involve holy or ceremonial items. Frequently, the artifacts are thought to be stolen or taken under terrible circumstances.
This time, the museum is returning to the Anindilyakwa tribe's everyday items like shell dolls, baskets, fishing spears, boomerangs, and maps.
The Anindilyakwa people live on an archipelago in the Gulf of Carpentaria, off Australia's northern coast. The group consists of around 1,600 people and is made up of 14 clans that are the traditional proprietors of the Groote Archipelago's land and waters.
Aboriginal Australians are considered one of the oldest continuously existing cultures on the globe. They first populated the continent about 65,000 years ago.
"We believe this is the future of museums," said Esme Ward, the director of Manchester Museum called it the future of museums, stressing that she hoped other museums would be inspired to build relationships as well.
Krista Pikkat, Unesco’s director for culture and emergencies called the moment "historic and moving," on Tuesday, adding that "This is a case we have shared with our member states because we felt it was exemplary in many ways." The return of the objects was not a transaction, she said, but “a collaboration, a dialogue", a project fuelled by "empathy, trust and love".
The items were all purchased or exchanged for in the 1950s by Peter Worsley, an anthropology Ph.D. student studying the lifestyles of Indigenous Australians who eventually became a university professor.
According to Ward, Worsley was building relationships with the Anindilyakwa people, and his daughter Deborah, who was present during the ceremony expressed her father would be "thrilled."
The tribe has been involved directly with what items should be returned and which could remain in the museum.
Ward also expressed "We’ve worked on repatriation in this museum since the 1990s and since I’ve been director we have framed it as a gain, not a loss. Once you understand that it is about building relationships, it changes everything. I think this project is an incredible gift to the people of Manchester."
Noeleen Lalara, a senior elder, expressed she was "happy" and "proud" for the people to regain their lost artifacts.
Another elder, Amethea Mamarika, expressed "We are happy that the objects are going back to our homeland, where they belong so young people can follow in the footsteps of our ancestors. Thanks for keeping them safe."
'Delayed repatriation is delayed justice for Native peoples': Senators
In June, Alaska's Republican Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan added their signatures to letters, urging five museums and universities to repatriate Indigenous artifacts and the remains of those deceased to their descendants.
The letters collected the signatures of 13 bipartisan Senators calling on the University of California Berkeley, Harvard University, Illinois State Museum, Indiana University, and the Ohio History Connection to abide by the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) that was signed into US Federal Law in 1990.
The Act decrees that all institutions that benefit from Federal funding must repatriate all human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony to their descendants or original community.
The letters denounced the non-compliance of the institution as "delayed repatriation is delayed justice for Native peoples."