Repatriation of ancestral remains and secret sacred objects to communities of origin helps create healing, justice and reconciliation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Communities work with the National Museum of Australia on access, safe-keeping and unconditional returns.
Traditional owners and custodians
The repatriation process is guided by strict policies that allow for the unconditional return of remains and artefacts in line with the aspirations of traditional owners and custodians.
Where custodians do not have the resources to take remains or secret and sacred objects, the Museum is able to hold them for safe-keeping on the community’s behalf.
A Repatriation Handbook
Download our free 120-page guide to repatriating Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Ancestral Remains. It looks at repatriation of ancestral remains from the museum and community side and is intended as a starting point for repatriation practice. See A Repatriation Handbook for the HTML version.
Conservation Report for a National Resting Place
Read the Museum's paper on conservation best practice requirements for housing and long-term care of ancestral remains in the proposed National Resting Place, Canberra. Much of the information about environmental control relates to Canberra but the general considerations in the report are applicable to other places.
Return, Reconcile, Renew
Visit the Return, Reconcile, Renew website for more detailed information and advice on repatriation of ancestral remains. The Museum is a partner in Return, Reconciliation, Review, funded by an Australian Research Council grant.
This project aims to locate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ancestral human remains kept in museums around the world and return them to country. Its website and digital archive have an Indigenous governance framework and are being continually developed.
The National Museum has been involved in repatriation since its inception in 1980 and is recognised internationally for its work with communities. The Museum is the temporary repository and repatriation point for many collections returned from overseas.
The Museum has never deliberately sought to acquire human remains or secret and sacred objects. These remains and objects are from earlier and international sources. Many were transferred when the Australian Institute of Anatomy closed in 1985.
Senior Repatriation Advisor
Dr Michael Pickering is the Senior Repatriation Advisor at the National Museum of Australia. Prior to the Museum, he worked as a research officer on Native Title for Aboriginal Affairs Victoria and then as head curator for the Indigenous Cultures program of Museum Victoria.
He is currently a member of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) and is on the editorial boards of the journals Museum Management and Curatorship and Museums and Social Issues.
Dr Pickering has previously been a member of the Collections Council of Australia expert panel on repatriation and a member of an ethics panel convened by the 9/11 memorial Museum in New York. He has twice received an Australia Day Achievement medallion.
- Last updated: 7 May 2018
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