Manchester Museum returns sacred material to aboriginal communities

Manchester Museum - Ceremony Dancers Gangalidda and Garawa

Manchester Museum will repatriate 43 secret sacred and ceremonial objects to the Aranda people of Central Australia, Gangalidda Garawa peoples’ of northwest Queensland, Nyamal people of the Pilbara and Yawuru people of Broome.

The Museum has been responsible for some of the artefacts since the 1920s and is now returning the items back to their traditional custodians.  Whilst Manchester Museum has been returning ancestral remains to their communities of origin since 2003, this marks the museum’s first return of secret sacred or ceremonial material to Australia.

The decision has been welcomed by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) whose CEO Craig Ritchie commented, “We congratulate Manchester Museum for their commitment to recognising the importance of repatriation for all Australians, which promotes healing and reconciliation, and ultimately fosters truth telling about our Nation’s history.”

Esme Ward, Director of Manchester Museum, said “By taking this action Manchester Museum will become more inclusive, caring and relevant to the communities it serves both locally and globally. Our work with AIATSIS to promote understanding between cultures, learn together and build new relationships for the future has never been more important or timely. We look forward to working with other museums to strengthen trust with source communities globally, work collaboratively, encourage open conversations about the future of collections and critically, take action.”

In late November, the first of two formal handover ceremonies will take place at Manchester Museum with delegates from Gangalidda Garawa, Nyamal and AIATSIS.

“The repatriation of our sacred cultural heritage items is a fundamental part of the healing and reconciliation process, both within our communities and between our mob and the Government,” Mangubadijarri Yanner, Representative for the Gangalidda Garawa Native Title Aboriginal Corporation said. “Bringing these sacred cultural heritage items back to Country is important and necessary for the purpose of cultural revitalisation – because locked deep within these items is our lore; our histories, our traditions and our stories.”

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Author: Michelle Swift