More than 40 Indigenous Australian artefacts held by an American museum will be returned to their Traditional Owners as part of a groundbreaking repatriation project.
A formal handover of the items took place at the museum on Wednesday during a ceremony with delegates from the Aranda people of Central Australia and the Bardi Jawi people of WA.
It follows the return of more than 40 sacred Indigenous artefacts held by Manchester Museum in the UK.
The arrangement is the result of 10 months of talks between the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) and the Illinois State Museum.
The items include boomerangs, shields, spears, clap sticks, body ornaments and necklaces.
Ken Wyatt, the minister for Indigenous Australians, has welcomed their return.
“The return of these culturally significant objects signifies an important moment of healing for these communities,” he said.
Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko, the director of Illinois State Museum, said it was a way to make amends with history.
“Those are lost materials and to be able to return those is powerful, motivational, exciting – but we have to remember there is more work to do,” she said.
Russell Davey and Robert Wiggan, junior lawmen who travelled from the One Arm Point community in WA’s Kimberley region, said they were honoured to be representing the Bardi Jawi people at the handover.
“On behalf of our Elders past and present we have travelled a very long way to return our material back home,” they said.
“The items were made with a small number of tools and their return will allow us to better understand how our ancestors made these particular items.”
Most of the items being returned were collected by linguistic anthropologist Gerhardt Laves in northern and Western Australia between 1929 and 1931.
He took them to Chicago University, which gave them to the museum in 1942 for an exhibit but they have not been displayed for 38 years.
The repatriation comes as part of the groundbreaking Return of Cultural Heritage project run by AIATSIS.
Braydon Kanjira, a ceremonial leader for the Aranda people, was happy the items could be returned to their rightful owners.
“Our community is excited and we are looking forward to having a celebration when the material is back on Country,” he said.