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British Museum to return artifacts to Indigenous Australians

MANCHESTER, UK: Manchester Museum will return several sacred artifacts to indigenous Australians after almost a century of possession.

The repatriation of 43 ceremonial objects is the first of its kind from the UK.

“By taking this action Manchester Museum will become more inclusive, caring and relevant to the communities it serves both locally and globally,” expressed museum director Esme Ward.

The museum, which is part of Manchester University, is the first British institution to return holy artifacts under an Australian government-funded project to repatriate items of cultural heritage to mark 250 years since Captain James Cook’s voyage, in 2020.

Government-funded celebrations to mark the anniversary of his expedition have been met with protests from indigenous communities in Australia.

The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, which manages the repatriation project, said Cook’s arrival marked the beginning of Aboriginals’ “cultural heritage being removed overseas”.

The artifacts range from traditional body ornaments to a churinga, a wood or stone object believed to embody the spiritual double of a relative or an ancestor, along with clapsticks, a musical instrument used in Aboriginal ceremonies.

The first artifacts will be handed over to Aranda people and the Gangalidda Garawa, aboriginal communities, in a formal ceremony in November.

Gangalidda Garawa Native Title Aboriginal Corporation spokesperson Mangubadijarri Yanner said, “[The repatriation was a] fundamental part of the healing and reconciliation process.”

“Bringing these sacred cultural heritage items back to the country is important and necessary for the purpose of cultural revitalization, because locked deep within these items is our lore – our histories, our traditions and our stories,” he said.

The Aboriginal communities that are to receive the artifacts flaunt cultural heritage dating back at least 70,000 years.

Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt, first Aboriginal person to hold the federal ministry and the first Aboriginal person to sit in cabinet, said, “[The return signified] an important moment of healing for these communities.”