• The remains of two ancestors were returned to Country in a ceremony by Aniawan descendants (Supplied)Source: Supplied
A burial ceremony has been performed on Anaiwan Country for the skulls of a man and a woman that were repatriated from the University of Edinburgh.
Jennetta Quinn-Bates

9 Jun 2021 - 11:37 AM  UPDATED 9 Jun 2021 - 11:54 AM

Skeletal remains of two Aboriginal ancestors have been returned to Northern New South Wales after they were taken more than one hundred years ago.

The skull of a man, sent to Scotland for research in the 1880s and also one of a woman were returned to the Anaiwan people and laid to rest in the Booroolong Nature Reserve last week.

It is one of the rare occasions that the remains of a woman have been returned to Anaiwan land, adding extra sentimental value for women of the tribe, who performed a cultural ceremony for the first time.

Anaiwan woman Cheryl Kitchener told NITV News she was honoured to be a part of the event.

“Celebrating returning our ancestors home is a fantastic opportunity to heal the spirit of the land and to heal the spirit of our people. So, I was honoured to be a part of that process and to be included in those ceremonies." she said.

Ms Kitchener said the women talked about the enormity of their ancestors’ bones being brought home and gave the woman’s remains a traditional name.

“It was agreed that we would view her as our sister, as our mother, as our daughter. Because we’re all got the same DNA. She still has the spirit of Anaiwan women, and we chose to name her Bawa, which means sister.” she said.

Anaiwan descendant and University of New England Aboriginal cultural advisor Steven Ahoy said while the repatriation of the remains is significant, there's still a feeling of loss as the skeletons are incomplete.

“We’ve only been able to acquire just (the man's) skull. The rest of his body is still missing. So, it’s like a missing link that needs to be returned so our community can be whole again.” he told ABC News. 

The University of Edinburgh in Scotland returned the remains to the National Museum of Australia thirty years ago, and with the help of Heritage NSW they finally found their way home.

Anaiwan people believe there are skeletal remains of at least 5 more people belonging to their tribe in museums throughout the world, and say they will continue the fight to have all remains and artefacts returned to Country.

“If you consider that Aboriginal culture is the longest living culture on this planet, and that our people, our sisters and brothers were stolen from us in the short period of 200 years, it’s a shame!” Cheryl Kitchener said.

The Power of Repatriation: Returning stolen Indigenous remains and artefacts to where they rightfully belong
NITV Queensland Correspondent Douglas Smith talks about his recent journey to a remote Queensland community where the repatriation of stolen cultural artefacts played a significant part in revitalising a culture.