Ancestors welcomed back to Arnhem Land

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Ancestral remains held in a museum in the United States for more than 60 years have been returned to traditional owners in the Northern Territory. 

Celebrating a big day for the ancestors at Gunbalanya in the Northern Territory [Credit: ABC]

Greeted by traditional dancers in the West Arnhem Land community of Gunbalanya, the remains of ancestors that were removed in 1948 have been reburied. 

They were taken by American researchers as part of a Northern Australian expedition and had been held at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington. 

World Archaeological Congress president Claire Smith says the repatriation is an important step forward. 

“It means that precedent is set,” she said. 

“It is the thin edge of the wedge, in a way.” 

She says it should inspire other Aboriginal communities to reclaim remains that have been taken from them as part of national and international research projects. 

An elder from Gunbalanya, Jacob Nayinggul, says the repatriation means the spirits of the ancestors are back where they belong. 

“It was really important to send them back,” he said. 

Other remains taken in 1912 and the 1960s that have been held in Australian museums were also been returned as part of the ceremony. 

Author: Anna Henderson | Source: ABC News Website [July 20, 2011]

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