New Zealand will return six Indigenous artefacts to their rightful owners in Australia a century after they were first taken.
The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) confirmed that successful repatriation discussions had now led to these items being returned from Tūhura Otago Museum to the Warumungu people of Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory.
“Them old things they were carved by the old people who had the songs for it, too. I’m glad these things are returning back,” said senior Warumungu man Michael Jones, in a statement.
“The museums are respecting us, and they’ve been thinking about us. They weren’t the ones who took them, they just ended up there. We can still teach the young people now about these old things and our culture.”
The objects — including a boomerang (kalpunta), adze tool (palya/kupija), and stone knives (marttan) — are believed to have been collected by a telegraph station master and British-born anthropologist in the late 19th century or early 20th century.
They found their way to the New Zealand museum in 1923 and 1937, where they’ve been held ever since.
“The return of cultural heritage material after more than a century is a significant moment for the Warumungu people and fundamental to the processes of truth-telling and reconciliation,” said Minister for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney.
“Repatriations like these are critical for the transfer of knowledge, cultural maintenance, and revitalisation for future generations.”
AIATSIS CEO Craig Ritchie also expressed thanks to the museum and congratulated his team for their hard work.
“Storytelling is integral to the transmission of our cultural knowledge,” he said. “Objects created in our communities, both sacred and secular, bear evidence of the skills of those who created them along with evidence of our cultural values.
“We don’t want to lose track of such storytelling aids, and our communities want a say in how they are used.
“AIATSIS is grateful to the Tūhura Otago Museum Māori Advisory Committee, the museum Trust Board, and the museum staff for the very positive manner in which they have conducted a dialogue on this return.”