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Repatriation Program

"Since 1862, Queensland Museum has acquired Secret and/or Scared Objects and Ancestral Remains from across Queensland, The Torres Strait Islands and the Pacific. It acknowledges that some past practices of the Museum, and its staff, were not respectful of, and did not understand the significance and cultural importance of objects and human remains. Traditional Owners were also not empowered to prevent the removal of their possessions. Queensland Museum apologises for these actions."

—  Excerpt from the Queensland Museum Reflect RAP Apology Statement

Repatriation, culturally sensitive and restricted material

Culturally sensitive and restricted material from First Nations Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are currently cared for across Queensland Museum under an ongoing care and custodianship agreement that was made between First Nations Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and Queensland Museum.

The most important of this material are the Ancestral Remains of First Nations Aboriginal Peoples and Torres Strait Islanders, Burial Goods and Secret and/or Sacred Objects. These items were collected with little or no regard for people or traditional Customs and Law, these remains and objects are now subject to the Queensland Museum’s Repatriation Program.

Between 1870 and 1970 the remains of many beloved and respected Ancestors were collected, not only by Queensland Museum but other institutions and individuals as well. It was not only Ancestral Remains that were collected, Burial Goods and Secret and/or Sacred Objects were also taken and were often used for scientific research or for public education and display. This was all done without the permission or consent of the First Nations People and without regard to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Laws and Customs.

Many of the Ancestors that were collected had already undergone ceremonial burial rights and were interred in their final resting place, while others were taken by force and often before mourning and burial ceremonies could be completed. The theft and removal of these remains not only disrupted the Ancestors sacred journey but also brought sorrow and suffering to those communities and the people left behind and this has continued through to modern day.

Since the 1970s Queensland Museum has continued to respond to calls from First Nations Aboriginal Peoples and Torres Strait Islanders to return the Remains and Cultural property of their Ancestors that had been stolen and removed. The Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act 2003 and the Torres Strait Islander Cultural Heritage Act 2003 provided the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ownership and custodianship over their Ancestors and Secret Sacred Material. The museum in conjunction with these and other relevant Acts’ has developed policies and procedures relating to the repatriation process and access procedures to ensure the cultural safety of its staff and the safety of those who are visiting their ancestors and sacred objects.

First Nations Aboriginal Peoples and Torres Strait Islanders continue the process of requesting the return their Ancestral Remains and associated material to their rightful home back on country. The return of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Ancestral Remains associated burial goods and Secret and /or Sacred Objects is now and will always be a priority for Queensland Museum.

The role that Queensland Museum now takes, is one of continuing protection and of custodianship at the direct request of the First Nations Aboriginal Peoples and Torres Strait Islanders whose Ancestors reside with the museum's new Keeping Place. The museums secure Keeping Place also acts as a temporary holding place for Ancestral Remains and objects that are returning from overseas institutes and collections before they are returned home. The museum’s Keeping Place is also a place where individuals within a domestic context who find that they are in possession of First Nations Ancestral Remains and Restricted objects can safely surrender those items knowing that they will be cared for and if provenanced returned to the lands they were originally taken from.

Further information

Aboriginal People and Torres Strait Islanders who would like to discuss repatriation of material can contact the Manager, Repatriation.

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