Twelve culturally sacred artefacts have been returned to the Gangalidda-Garawa people in a special ceremony in Bourketown, Far North Queensland on Wednesday after being stolen by British explorers over a century ago.
The formal repatriation comes after the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) negotiated the return with the Manchester Museum in the UK, where the items were deposited and displayed before sitting in an archive for the past two decades.
Speaking to NITV News, Senior Traditional Owner Murrandoo Yanner said the return of the objects was significant because they still had “spirits attached to them.”
“It’s not so much just the object, it’s the spirit that comes back with it – that goes away with it – we welcome it home,” said Mr Yanner.
Due to some of the returned artefacts being too sacred in their use for law and ceremonial practices, Mr Yanner said they were unable to be shown.
“Those really sacred ones you would’ve had to shoot the mob to get those off them, so they was taken from dead hands of our ancestors here,” he said.
Mr Yanner’s son, Mangubadijarri Yanner, said the repatriation of the items was fundamental to “healing and reconciliation”.
“Bringing these sacred, cultural heritage items back to country where they belong is important and necessary for the purpose of cultural revitalisation,” said Mangubadijarri.
“Locked deep within these items is our law, our traditions, our histories, our livelihood and our stories.”
Director of the Return of Cultural Heritage Project at AIATSIS, Christopher Simpson, was instrumental in bringing the items back to Country and told NITV News they were currently working with communities across Australia to shine more light on the job of repatriating sacred objects being held by collectors overseas to First Nations across Australia.
Mr Simpson's team of researchers have identified over 100,000 Aboriginal artefacts spread across various museums around the world.
“Some of the communities are really happy to have their standard types of objects sit overseas in museums,” said Mr Simpson.
“But they’d like to contextualise those items, they’d like to give the Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander name to those material to discover how they were made, why they were made, who the creator was – to bring a wholistic view of that item instead of it just being an item from the collector.”