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HomeWorld NewsAustralian Indigenous Community Receives 174 Items Repatriated from Manchester

Australian Indigenous Community Receives 174 Items Repatriated from Manchester

The Manchester Museum has returned 174 items to an Australian Indigenous community in what is considered one of the largest restitution projects ever undertaken in the UK.

A delegation from the Anindilyakwa community of Groote Eylandt in the Northern Territory joined the museum on Sept. 6 for the formal return of the heritage items including spears and shell dolls.

The Manchester Museum worked with the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) and the Anindilyakwa Land Council on the process to recover the items, which have been held for decades.

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“For the first time, Manchester Museum staff were present in person for part of the consultation process, visiting Groote Eylandt, in Australia’s Northern Territory at the invitation of the Anindilyakwa People,” the museum said in a statement.


The museum also said building a greater understanding between cultures was central to its mission.

“As part of this, we’re committed to the unconditional return of collections and belongings to communities of origin,” they said.

The Anindilyakwa Land Council (ALC) represents the 14 clans that are the traditional owners of the Groote Archipelago.

“The repatriation of the Worsley Collection by Manchester Museum is an important step for the ALC in pursuing one of our core visions: to protect, maintain, and promote Anindilyakwa culture. We have only just begun to appreciate how valuable the repatriation of the Worsley Collection will be in the future,” said Deputy Chair of the ALC Thomas Amagula.

Two artists—senior elder Noeleen Lalara and emerging leader Maicie Lalara—were a part of the delegation of Anindilyakwa women, while a set of repatriated dolls has already inspired a contemporary art project led by the women.

Manchester Museum Head of Exhibitions and Collections Georgina Young spent time with the Anindilyakwa People to learn about the collection ahead of the handover.

“Sitting with Elders and hearing them discuss this collection on their land in their terms has enabled me to understand and care in ways not possible in a store room in Manchester, and brought us to a place of understanding together,” she said.

The Australian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom Stephen Smith also said that the return of the significant cultural heritage items is important for the reconciliation process.

“It also helps renew cultural practices and safeguard such practices and items for future generations,” he said.

Part of the UN’s Pledge to Honour Indigenous Rights

The museum said the repatriation was part of the institution’s embrace of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples following a 20-year history of returning items to Indigenous communities.

“The aim is to reimagine the role of museums by shifting emphasis toward caring for people as well as objects, building greater understanding and empathy between cultures by working with communities to tell their stories in different ways,” it said.

Acting Chief Executive of AIATSIS Leonard Hill thanked the museum for its collaborative approach.

“This is a highly significant return and demonstrates how respectful partnerships between AIATSIS, First Nation communities and overseas collecting institutions can create opportunities for people to encounter, engage, and be transformed by the stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.”

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