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Manchester Museum returns ceremonial and secret sacred materials back to Traditional Custodians

Manchester Museum, part of The University of Manchester, and the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) are pleased to announce the unconditional repatriation of 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.

Manchester Museum has been responsible for some of the material since the 1920s, and has been active in returning ancestral remains to their communities of origin since 2003, however this marks the museum’s first return of secret sacred and/or ceremonial material to Australia.

AIATSIS CEO Mr Craig Ritchie welcomes the decision made by Manchester Museum, acknowledging its significance not only for the Aboriginal peoples whose items are coming home, but also for Australia more broadly.

“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,” Mr Ritchie said.

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."

Professor Nalin Thakkar, Vice-President for Social Responsibility at The University of Manchester, said “This is excellent news and demonstrates that The University of Manchester, and our cultural assets like Manchester Museum, are committed to social responsibility, not just at local or region level, but on an international scale.

“Our students will be the next generation of global citizens making changes in the world and actions such as these set a really positive example for them to emulate.”

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.”

The return marks the first repatriation from the United Kingdom for the Return of Cultural Heritage project being led by AIATSIS, and the second to occur after the recent announcement of 42 objects to be returned from the United States of America.

Ganaglidda and Garawa Ceremony Dancers on Country

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: 27 January 2023