Project Approach and Progress

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Phase 1: Planning and Initiation. This phase will involve the preparation of a project plan, engagement and communication strategy and ethics proposal.

Completed February 2019

Phase 2: Research and Identification. This phase will involve a literature review of existing research on materials held in overseas collecting institutions. This phase will form the foundation for return negotiations with overseas institutions, determine which material is sought for return and inform which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, organisations or individuals are engaged in Phase 3 and 4.

Completed May 2019 – Preliminary research identified 220 overseas collecting institutions with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage collections. Of these, AIATSIS has corresponded with 168 and received responses from 121 institutions. AIATSIS is continuing to work with these institutions to establish the geographical provenance and cultural origin of collections and objects. Information gathered will be documented in an appropriately accessible database of cultural heritage material held overseas (currently under construction).

Phase 3: Collaboration and Negotiation. During this phase, AIATSIS will work in close collaboration with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and overseas collecting institutions to confirm custodianship of materials and negotiate the unconditional return of materials. The outcomes of these negotiations will inform Phase 4 - Return of Material.

Completed July 2019 – Based on the information garnered during Phase 2, six potential case studies (returns) were selected for further investigation.  Selection of case studies was determined on a number of factors, including but not limited to, the ability to establish geographical provenance and cultural origin of the material, willingness of the institution to engage in return discussions, likelihood of a return within project timeframes, absence of competing claims to the material and legislative/policy context of the institution/Country.

Phase 4: Return of Material. This phase will be a collaborative process and will require considerable input from relevant Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, organisations or individuals. 

Currently underway – AIATSIS is currently working two overseas collecting institutions to return 6 discrete collections to five languages groups across Australia.

Phase 5: Project Conclusion. This phase will involve the completion of written project deliverables, project closure and narrative reporting. This phase will be conducted by the project team members with input from the Advisory Committee and relevant Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, organisations or individuals (as required).

Due to commence – January 2020

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Last reviewed: 2 Sep 2019