Repatriation of ancestral remains to Australia

17 November 2022

The Free State of Saxony returns human remains from the Museum für Völkerkunde Dresden to Australia

As part of a formal ceremony on Thursday Nov. 17, 2022, six ancestors that were in the possession of the State Ethnographic Collections of Saxony will be returned to their Traditional Custodians and representatives from the Australian Government.

The public return at the “GRASSI Museum für Völkerkunde zu Leipzig” is the third repatriation to Australia. It is the result of close collaboration with representatives of First Nations Traditional Custodians, the legitimate decision makers within the Indigenous communities as well as Australian government officials and the Australian Embassy.

In April and November 2019, 82 ancestors who were previously part of the collections were returned to Australia. All of these human remains were brought to the museum as part of colonial appropriation and looting. Now, representatives of the Mutthi Mutthi, Worimi, Gannagal and Awabakal communities from New South Wales will be able to receive the ancestors and accompany them home.

Before today's ceremonial repatriation, the representatives of the Traditional Custodians prepared the homecoming of the ancestors with ceremonies. The repatriation of human remains of Indigenous ancestors is an important part of the of the ethnological museums of Saxony. Collaboration with First Nations people from Australia, as well as policy makers from both countries, is an important part of the repatriation. The return of the remains is a central aspect of healing and reconciliation in light of the colonial offenses in which the museum participated.

The human remains come from grave looting and from victims of violent conflicts. Between 1876 and 1902, they were purchased and donated to the Royal Zoological and Anthropological-Ethnographic Museum, the predecessor institution of the Museum für Völkerkunde Dresden (MVD), which was founded in 1945 and has been part of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden as part of the Staatliche Ethnographische Sammlungen Sachsen since 2010.

Since 2009, the Australian government has pursued the goal of repatriation of the First Nations ancestors. In 2017, talks took place in Dresden between representatives from the Australian Embassy Berlin and the Australian Government, and representatives of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden as well as representatives of Free State Saxony. Both sides agreed to intensify the provenance research on the human remains of the Australian First Nations people and to prepare a return to the country-of-origin Australia and the respective communities.

Presspictures and -dossiers

Feierliche Zeremonie der Repatriierung
© SKD, Foto: Tom Dachs
Feierliche Zeremonie der Repatriierung
© SKD, Foto: Tom Dachs
Feierliche Zeremonie der Repatriierung
© SKD, Foto: Tom Dachs
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