• Traditional Owners have been given back sacred cultural objects which were stolen and gifted to an American museum. (AISTIS)Source: AISTIS
An American museum announces its commitment to return 42 objects to two separate Traditional Owner groups almost 90 years after they were taken.
Rangi Hirini

27 Oct 2019 - 12:56 AM  UPDATED 27 Oct 2019 - 1:05 AM

Traditional Owners from the Aranda people of Central Australia and the Bardi Jawi people of the northern Dampier Peninsula in Western Australia were given back more than 40 culturally significant items from the Illinois State Museum during a repatriation ceremony on Wednesday night.

Last month, the Illinois State Museum announced they would return the 42 items from its collection. The cultural artefacts being returned are a mix of sacred and secular pieces, including boomerangs, shields, spears, clap sticks, body ornaments and necklaces.

Bardi Jawi Junior Law Bosses from One Arm Point, Russell Davey and Robert Wiggan, said they were honoured to be at the ceremony and represent their people. 

“On behalf of our Elders past and present we have travelled a very long way to return our material back home,” the men said in a statement. 

“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”.

Aranda ceremonial leader Braydon Kanjira said his community is looking forward to having their objects back on Country.

The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) has a repatriation project called ‘Return of Cultural Heritage’. The pilot project aims to return Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage materials (objects, audiovisual and images) back to Country. 

AIATSIS and the Illinois State Museum had been discussing the repatriation of the objects for almost 10 months, AIATSIS' CEO Craig Ritchie said he hopes this ceremony is only the beginning of a series of the return of stolen items. 

“The handover ceremony indicates the growing prominence and celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture around the world and recognition by museums for the need to return significant material to First Nations people in Australia and overseas,” Mr Ritchie said.

“On Country is where these objects can support the intergenerational transfer of knowledge and assist in the maintenance and revival of cultural practices.” 

Most of the artefacts being returned were collected by linguistic anthropologist Gerhardt Laves in northern and Western Australia between 1929 and 1931. 

Illinois State Museum has no records of how Laves acquired them, only that he took the objects back to Chicago University, who gave them to Illinois State Museum for an exhibit on Indigenous cultures in 1942.

The Traditional Owners will begin their journey home with their objects Sunday evening, ceremonies will be held back here in Australia for both groups. 

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