Seven Sacred Indigenous Objects Have Been Returned to Their Traditional Owners in Central Australia

 Last month a delegation of Warlpiri men from Yuendumu, north-west of Alice Springs, were able to collect the sacred objects which had been repatriated from the University of Virginia. Unfortunately, there are many instances where sacred Indigenous objects have been taken away from their home and the University of Virginia is home to one of the most significant collections of these objects outside of Australia. In their Kluge-Ruhe collection, the American university houses around 2,200 First Nations artefacts. (The Guardian, 2022)

The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, or AIATSIS, has partnered with the university to return these items to their home. In an interview with The Guardian (2022), AIATSIS chief executive, Craig Ritchie said: 

“We aim to influence the development of changes to institutional repatriation practices, policy and guidelines, and to foster relationships between collecting institutions abroad and Indigenous communities in this country.”

The Yuendumu community will hold a private ceremony to celebrate the return of the Warlpiri materials once they arrive back in the community. When speaking with The Guardian (2022), Warlpiri men Geoffrey Jagamara Mathews and Warren Purnpajardu Williams Japanangka have said: 

“All the objects overseas, if they belong to Warlpiri, they need to come back to our country, where they come from,”

“We are glad to see this material come back to Australia from America, but we need more help for all our material to come back.

“Their final resting place is on country.

“We’re opening the gates for other tribes as well, to help people in other places to get their things back.”

Manchester Museum returns sacred Indigenous Australian artefacts. Courtesy of The Guardian, 2019.

AIATSIS has seen success with other repatriation projects in previous years, for example the Manchester Museum returned several sacred objects to the Wakka Wakka, Gangalidda and Garawa people in 2019, (The Guardian, 2022).

There are still many First Nations artefacts being kept overseas in museums and private collections and it is important for institutes such as AIATSIS to continue to develop changes in repatriation practices and policies. There are still many more artefacts that need to be returned, (The Guardian, 2022).

If you would like to read about more traditional Aboriginal artefacts returning home, have a look at this previous post:

81 Priceless Aboriginal Artefacts Repatriated to Kamilaroi Country