An audience of around 100 at the National Indigenous Research Conference in Brisbane on Tuesday heard of a project that is seeking to retrieve hundreds of sacred Indigenous objects living in international museums and institutions.
The Cultural Heritage Project is working towards bringing home at least 266 spears, artworks and language recordings to original custodians and owners.
The project has been running for the past year and is headed by Craig Ritchie, chief executive of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) and AIATSIS researchers.
Mr Ritchie told Radio National earlier this week that 83,000 artefacts are estimated to be overseas.
“The project that we are running is focusing on a provisional total of around 266 items in almost 200 institutions, not all of these have agreed to entertain discussion about return but from those that have, we think about 266 are potentially coming home,” he said.
Mr Ritchie told NITV News he has been disturbed whilst viewing sacred and secret material on display on his travels overseas and that the repatriation project gives the broader Aboriginal community an opportunity to “exercise self-determination”.
“Part of the benefit of this project to the country is that it stretches our historical timeline back and it gives the country access to 65,000 years of history, 65,000 years of learning, 65,000 years of knowledge,” Mr Ritchie said.
Despite so many items living overseas, Mr Ritchie is confident museums and institutions will stop displaying sacred material once they fully understand how significant it is to Indigenous people.
With the 250th anniversary of Captain Cook’s arrival to Australia’s East Coast coming up next year, AIATSIS is taking steps to ensure they have a handful of sacred objects back on their rightful Country.