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The Long Way Home

The Long Way Home: The Meaning and Values of Repatriation

Paul Turnbull
Michael Pickering
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    The Long Way Home
    Book Description:

    Indigenous peoples have long sought the return of ancestral human remains and associated artifacts from western museums and scientific institutions. Since the late 1970s their efforts have led museum curators and researchers to re-evaluate their practices and policies in respect to the scientific uses of human remains. New partnerships have been established between cultural and scientific institutions and indigenous communities. Human remains and culturally significant objects have been returned to the care of indigenous communities, although the fate of bones and burial artifacts in numerous collections remains unresolved and, in some instances, the subject of controversy. In this book, leading researchers from a wide range of disciplines in the humanities and social sciences reflect critically on the historical, cultural, ethical and scientific dimensions of repatriation. Through various case studies they consider the impact of repatriation: what have been the benefits, and in what ways has repatriation given rise to new problems for indigenous people, scientists and museum personnel. It features chapters by indigenous knowledge custodians, who reflect upon recent debates and interaction between indigenous people and researchers in disciplines with direct interests in the continued scientific preservation of human remains.

    In this book, leading researchers from a wide range of disciplines in the humanities and social sciences reflect critically on the historical, cultural, ethical and scientific dimensions of repatriation. Through various case studies they consider the impact of repatriation: what have been the benefits, and in what ways has repatriation given rise to new problems for indigenous people, scientists and museum personnel. It features chapters by indigenous knowledge custodians, who reflect upon recent debates and interaction between indigenous people and researchers in disciplines with direct interests in the continued scientific preservation of human remains.

    eISBN: 978-1-84545-959-8
    Subjects: Art & Art History, Sociology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)
    Paul Turnbull

    This collection of essays has its origins in conversations, stimulated by the National Museum of Australia’s experiences of the repatriation of Aboriginal Australian ancestral bodily remains.

    Unlike most of Australia’s larger state museums, the history of the National Museum of Australia does not date back to the nineteenth century and the institution, therefore, had no interest in actively seeking to acquire human remains or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples secret/sacred objects that are typically covered by cultural sanctions as to access. The Museum was not established until 1980 and its architecturally striking exhibition spaces, on Canberra’s Acton Peninsula, were...

  5. Part I Ancestors, Not Specimens

    • 1 The Meanings and Values of Repatriation
      (pp. 15-19)
      Henry Atkinson

      On behalf of the people of the Yorta Yorta Nation, I want to begin by acknowledging the Ngunnawal people, the traditional owners of the land on which the conference which led me to write this chapter was held. I thank the Ngunnawal people for generously welcoming all of us who journeyed to their country. And I also want to pay my respects to the ancestral spirits and to the spirits of those who are not yet home in the land of their birth.

      I feel we have a long way to go in the process of repatriation for there are...

    • 2 Repatriating Our Ancestors: Who Will Speak for the Dead?
      (pp. 20-26)
      Franchesca Cubillo

      This paper may contain information regarding Indigenous human remains that may cause distress to some people and I apologise for this.

      Indigenous Australian communities today have a cultural and spiritual responsibility to ensure that our ancestors’ remains are returned to their homelands. As a nation of people, we have had to fight for the rights of our ancestors because their remains are held in research institutions throughout the world. In the last twenty years, Indigenous people in Australia have discovered that the remains of at least 7,200 of their ancestors are held in museums in Australia, 5,500 whose provenance is...

  6. Part II Repatriation in Law and Policy

    • 3 Museums, Ethics and Human Remains in England: Recent Developments and Implications for the Future
      (pp. 29-34)
      Liz Bell

      English Museums hold between them tens of thousands of human remains (Weeks and Bott 2003: 3); many of which belong to cultures that have for years fought for the return of their ancestors from institutions both at home and abroad. Despite these numbers, England has managed to stay on the sidelines of the repatriation debate, failing in numerous instances to address satisfactorily the concerns of Indigenous groups. Mounting pressure from these Indigenous groups, from the Australian Federal Government, and a growing realisation that the concerns raised over the continued retention of human remains are valid has led to changes that...

    • 4 Legal Impediments to the Repatriation of Cultural Objects to Indigenous Peoples
      (pp. 35-47)
      Kathryn Whitby-Last

      In this chapter I will be drawing on both international and domestic law to highlight the problems faced by Indigenous peoples in making claims for the repatriation of cultural heritage. Before turning to the substantive legal issues, I will look at two preliminary issues: firstly, the definition of cultural heritage and, secondly, the distinction between restitution and repatriation. This will highlight some of the issues that must be considered when assessing the substantive law.

      The first preliminary issue that deserves mention is the definition of ‘cultural heritage’. There is not space in this paper to address all aspects of this...

    • 5 Parks Canada’s Policies that Guide the Repatriation of Human Remains and Objects
      (pp. 48-56)
      Virginia Myles

      Parks Canada is a federal government agency that manages national historic sites, national parks and national marine conservation areas or reserves. It administers forty-two national parks, five national marine conservation areas or reserves and 158 national historic sites. In addition, there are 778 sites in the family of national historic sites that, although not administered by Parks Canada, often follow the agency’s policies. Through Parks Canada’s programs, the country’s natural and cultural areas for which the agency is responsible are protected and presented for present and future generations.

      This chapter describes the evolving policy framework informing how Parks Canada deals...

  7. Part III The Ethics and Cultural Implications of Repatriation

    • 6 What Might an Anthropology of Cultural Property Look Like?
      (pp. 59-81)
      Martin Skrydstrup

      In the spring of 2004, the Museum of Victoria in Australia opened an exhibition of Aboriginal bark etchings on loan from the British Museum and the Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew (United Kingdom). The collection had been assembled around 1854 and the provenance of the bark etchings could be traced to the Dja Dja Warrung Aboriginal community in Central Victoria (Prott 2006). Like most other museums in Australia in the post-Mabo era, the Museum of Victoria was known to have taken a progressive stand towards engaging Aboriginal voices, knowledge and sensitivities in their exhibition work through extensive consulting with relevant...

    • 7 Repatriation and the Concept of Inalienable Possession
      (pp. 82-95)
      Elizabeth Burns Coleman

      The idea of an ‘inalienable possession’ is central to the justification of the repatriation of parts of museum collections, such as sacred objects, objects of patrimony, funerary objects and ancestral remains to the groups from which they were taken. The intuition that such objects are being rightfully returned does not rest on whether or not there is legal title to them, but on the special kinds of ‘identity’ relationships groups of people have with them. It is this identity relationship which defines an object as inalienable, as opposed something that is property, and alienable. For example, under the United States’...

    • 8 Consigned to Oblivion: People and Things Forgotten in the Creation of Australia
      (pp. 96-114)
      John Morton

      These are the first words appearing on a web page devoted to ‘Indigenous arts and culture’ maintained by the Australian federal Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Later, on the same web page, the following paragraph appears:

      In September 2000 the Federal Government funded two support programs to assist with the return of Indigenous human remains and secret sacred objects from national, State and Territory museums within Australia. The Museums Support Program assists museums with identification and the Community Support Program assists Indigenous communities with the return of ancestral remains and secret sacred objects.

      From these remarks, I initially register...

  8. Part IV Repatriation and the History of Scientific Collecting of Indigenous Remains

    • 9 The Vermillion Accord and the Significance of the History of the Scientific Procurement and Use of Indigenous Australian Bodily Remains
      (pp. 117-134)
      Paul Turnbull

      Henry Atkinson, a senior lawman of the Yorta Yorta people, speaks eloquently in this volume of the bewilderment and anguish caused by the desecration of ancestral burial places. However distressing it has proved, his obligation under customary law has been to secure the repatriation of Yorta Yorta remains lying in collections within various museums and medical schools in Australia, Europe and the United Kingdom.¹ In recalling his experiences in campaigning for remains to be brought back to country, Henry Atkinson reminded us that repatriation has its origins in ‘Indigenous people … demanding control, accountability and recognition of their ownership of...

    • 10 Eric Mjöberg and the Rhetorics of Human Remains
      (pp. 135-144)
      Claes Hallgren

      In September 2004, human remains acquired in the Kimberley region of Western Australia by members of the Swedish scientific expedition of 1910 to 1911 were returned to Aboriginal community representatives in a ceremony at the Museum of Ethnography in Stockholm. The expedition also collected a large number of artefacts, some secret or sacred, which remain to be repatriated.

      In 2003 I published a book on the expedition entitledTvå Resenärer. Två Bilder av Australier(Two Travellers. Two Pictures of Aborigines). My title referred to the attitude of two of the main participants in the expedition, Eric Mjöberg and Yngve Laurell....

  9. Part V Museums, Indigenous Peoples and Repatriation

    • 11 Scientific Knowledge and Rights in Skeletal Remains – Dilemmas in the Curation of ‘Other’ People’s Bones
      (pp. 147-162)
      Howard Morphy

      The repatriation or restitution of cultural property and the return of skeletal material are not only emotive issues that are likely to attract media attention and political opportunism, they are also relevant to the nature of anthropological museums and the relation of anthropological knowledge to the Indigenous subjects of that knowledge. The relationship is one that is mediated through complex political and cultural processes.

      Biological anthropologists and archaeologists, in particular those whose main concern is human evolution, may with some justice argue that they have not received the peer-group support, when it came to formulating arguments and articulating the case...

    • 12 Despatches From The Front Line? Museum Experiences in Applied Repatriation
      (pp. 163-174)
      Michael Pickering

      Like most Australian museums, the National Museum of Australia has been active in the return of ancestral remains and sacred objects. Repatriation exercises have generally proceeded without incident, attesting to the effectiveness of the methods and procedures applied by Australian museums in the repatriation process. This chapter describes the applied activities of the National Museum of Australia in repatriating ancestral remains and sacred objects. It then considers what has been learned through this work and to identify what might be required for the future development of the repatriation process. My argument is that, while applied repatriation proceeds as a practice,...

    • 13 ‘You Keep It – We are Christians Here’: Repatriation of the Secret Sacred Where Indigenous World-views Have Changed
      (pp. 175-182)
      Kim Akerman

      For many non-Aboriginals and some Aboriginals within institutions involved with the repatriation of secret sacred material, knowledge of the subject is either very limited or based on a set of premises derived from the work of such anthropologists as Baldwin Spencer, T.G.H. Strehlow, C.P. Mountford, Mervyn Meggitt or Ronald Berndt. The work of these men has led to a ‘central Australian’ interpretation of the nature and function of certain classes of objects (plain or engraved tablets of wood or stone of various sizes that are generally known asjurungaorchuringa) that does not necessarily hold true for similar types...

    • 14 The First ‘Stolen Generations’: Repatriation and Reburial in Ngarrindjeri Ruwe (country)
      (pp. 183-198)
      Steve Hemming and Chris Wilson

      In this chapter, we consider some of the social, cultural, political and economic implications of repatriating Old People (human remains) to an Indigenous community. Our focus is the return of Ngarrindjeri Old People from museums within Australia and the United Kingdom to Ngarrindjeri Ruwe (country) in the lower Murray region of South Australia. This issue is part of the global repatriation debate which often excludes serious consideration of the consequences of repatriation for Indigenous people. We seek to expand understandings of the impacts of repatriation on Indigenous communities as well as to provide an anti-colonial reading of the practice of...

  10. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 199-202)
  11. Index
    (pp. 203-208)