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Aranda and Bardi Jawi representatives attend handover ceremony at the Illinois State Museum

A delegation of Traditional Owners from the Aranda and Bardi Jawi Nations as well as representatives from the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) attended an inspiring handover ceremony at the Illinois State Museum in Springfield overnight.

The handover ceremony signified the official repatriation of 42 culturally significant items to the Aranda people of Central Australia, and the Bardi Jawi people of the northern Dampier Peninsula, Western Australia. The handover follows the Museum’s announcement on 10th September 2019 to unconditionally return 42 items from its collection.

AIATSIS CEO Mr Craig Ritchie said, “The handover ceremony indicates the growing prominence and celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture around the world and a recognition by museums for the need to return significant material to First Nations people in Australia and overseas.”

“These objects will be making the long journey home and back to the keeping places of their Traditional Owners. On Country is where these objects can support the intergenerational transfer of knowledge and assist in the maintenance and revival of cultural practices. The ceremony at the Illinois State Museum marks the start of a series of returns by the AIATSIS Return of Cultural Heritage project. We thank the Illinois State Museum for their partnership and look forward to working together in future,” Mr Ritchie said.

Russell Davey and Robert Wiggan, Bardi Jawi Junior Law Bosses from One Arm Point Community said “We are really honoured and proud to be here in Springfield [USA] and to be representing our people. On behalf of our Elders past and present we have travelled a very long way to return our material back home. The items were made with a small number of tools and their return will allow us to better understand how our ancestors made these particular items”.

Braydon Kanjira, Aranda ceremonial leader said “I would like to thank Minister Wyatt, the Australian Government and AIATSIS for helping Lofty and I return our material home. We are very proud to represent the Aranda Nation and we feel more powerful knowing the material is coming home. Our community is excited and we are looking forward to having a celebration when the material is back on Country.”

In attendance at the handover ceremony were Consul-General David Bushby and Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko, Director Illinois State Museum, who officiated the event.

Consul-General David Bushby said, “The return of cultural heritage material to their traditional Country, is a profoundly important issue for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples within Australia. It not only helps to promote healing and reconciliation, but more importantly the revitalisation and maintenance of the world’s oldest continuing cultures”.

The delegation was welcomed and received a blessing by the Peoria Tribe, the local Illinois First Nation community, upon their arrival in Springfield on Monday. The delegation and the items will begin their voyage home to Australia on Sunday evening.

The AIATSIS-led Return of Cultural Heritage Project is funded by the Australian Government as part of the measures to mark the 250th anniversary in 2020 of James Cook’s first voyage to Australia.

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Last updated: 22 December 2022