Natural and Cultural Heritage Theme Report
Australia State of the Environment Report 2001 (Theme Report)
Lead Author: Jane Lennon, Jane Lennon and Associates Pty Ltd, Authors
Published by CSIRO on behalf of the Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2001
ISBN 0 643 06752 3
Indigenous control of Indigenous heritage (continued)
Repossession of cultural heritage materials, including human remains and Indigenous artefacts, is one way in which Indigenous communities can reassert some control over their cultural heritage. Teaching young people about their culture can be enhanced when the cultural material of the community is in its possession.
The repatriation of Indigenous materials and human remains has become a major issue for Indigenous communities. Table 38 indicates the scale of repatriation programs over the last five years, and shows a substantial increase in funding towards the end of the reporting period. In many cases a museum has not been able to determine the amount spent on repatriation because repatriation is viewed as a core activity of the relevant staff and is therefore not costed out separately from other museum activities.
|DCITAA||1 300 000||1||129 488||2||1 429 488|
|Screen Sound Australia||2||5 000||2||5 000|
|ATSICB||6||341 577||6||341 577|
|Australian MuseumC||100 000||100 000||100 000||100 000||100 000||1||500 000|
|Qld Museum||70 909||11 643||12 900||13 569||14 392||1||123 413|
|SA MuseumD||7 500||7 500||7 500||7 500||7 500||5||37 500|
|Museum VictoriaE||1 000||1 000||1 000||1 000||1 000||1||5 000|
|West Australian MuseumF||16 420||16 420||16 420||16 420||23 420||1||89 100|
|TOTAL||1 300 000||195 829||136 563||137 820||138 489||9||622 377||19||2 531 078|
A Prior to 2000, when DCITA took over the program it is not possible to split it up by year (hence the lump sum in the 1993-99 column).
B Estimated amount.
C Estimate of cost; the Australian Museum sees repatriation as a core activity and repatriates material as requests come to the museum.
D Estimate of number of projects and South Australian Museum funding over last five years.
E Estimate of the amount of money spent by Museum Victoria over the last five years.
F Estimate of cost for the Western Australian Museum.
Source: Indigenous Heritage Section, Australian Heritage Commission.
A joint Commonwealth-States agreement on repatriation started in 1999, and $3 million has been allocated for the three-year period from 1999 to 2002 as a joint Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts (DCITA)-States funding initiative, with half the money coming from the Commonwealth and the other half from State and Territory museums, except for the ACT. DCITA administers this program, which is entitled Return of Indigenous Cultural Heritage Property. It suggests that for the first time a coordinated approach is being taken by the two levels of government to the repatriation of human and cultural materials, and that the way in which information on repatriation is kept in the future will be different and will presumably be made more accessible for State of the Environment reporting processes.
Six out of the 10 organisations in the Knowles survey who could get material repatriated have been successful in their requests. The response to demands for the return of materials varies according to the holding body. Most of the major museums around Australia are now actively involved in repatriation programs, and this process will be enhanced by the Return of Indigenous Cultural Heritage Property program. Even some of the smaller museums, such as Cooktown, are being approached by organisations seeking the return of material.
There are also many small community museums with artefacts from local Indigenous sites. Those involved in managing the museums often have little idea of appropriate protocols in caring for the object or whether items should be repatriated. This issue needs to be surveyed, and museum managers need to be educated about their responsibilities.
In the case of human remains there appears to be little difficulty in getting material returned from Australian museums if it is clear where it has come from. In the case of cultural material, one of the concerns for the holding agency is whether adequate protection will be provided when the material is transferred back to the community. This, in turn, depends upon whether a community has adequate resources to hold the material and has training in its conservation. For example, some agencies are not happy with material being returned if it will no longer be accessible for research purposes.
In other cases the community is acutely aware of the potential problems in having cultural material repatriated and is not prepared to receive it. Recently, one community had a keeping place raided that held newly repatriated cultural objects. Sometimes the elders say that they would like material returned but they believe the young 'fellas' do not know enough yet to look after it properly. In other cases a community has negotiated with a museum to enable the elders to go to the museum in order to perform their ceremonies.
Increasing cases of repatriation of material does not necessarily correlate with Indigenous cultural heritage maintenance, but it can be a useful guide. Care must be taken to ensure that it is the desire of a given community to actually receive materials, especially human remains, that the holding institution intends to repatriate. Some communities have expressed little interest in receiving human remains. They are wary of not knowing precisely the identity of remains and do not wish to incur sickness for themselves. Some communities have expressed the view that other cultural remains (particularly more sensitive or sacred items) had come into the possession of institutions through a process that they see as an agreement between an institution or researcher/individual and their old people, who were senior carriers of law and who have since died. They do not wish to meddle in that arrangement.