Today, the Minister for Indigenous Australians, the Hon Ken Wyatt AM, MP, announced the introduction of the Return of Cultural Heritage (RoCH) initiative. The Australian Government will provide a total of $9.99 million over the next four years for the initiative.
The Return of Cultural Heritage initiative will be led by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. Under the Initiative, AIATSIS will work with Indigenous communities to facilitate and secure the return of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage material held in overseas collections.
In addition to returning culturally significant material from overseas to Australia, the Return of Cultural Heritage initiative will manage and curate a database of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage material held overseas; establish best practice guidelines for the return of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage; advocate for change to institutional repatriation practice(s) and foster relationships between overseas collecting institutions and Indigenous communities.
AIATSIS CEO Craig Ritchie said “the Return of Cultural Heritage Initiative will continue and expand the work carried-out by AIATSIS under the Return of Cultural Heritage pilot project, which returned 85 cultural significant objects from two overseas collecting institutions: Illinois State Museum, and Manchester Museum - The University of Manchester.”
“AIATSIS will work in partnership with Indigenous communities throughout Australia over the next four years to return material from overseas collections, including museums, university and private holdings. Secret / sacred, ceremonial and secular items will be returned as part of the Initiative.”
The Initiative responds to the identification of an extensive future body of work for the return of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage from overseas collections. Numerous overseas collecting institutions have confirmed their willingness to work with AIATSIS and Indigenous communities to return material.
The AIATSIS-led Return of Cultural Heritage Initiative is funded by the Australian Government National Indigenous Australians Agency.