For National Indigenous Times:
Repatriation of Remains Ceremony at National Museum of Australia, Canberra 2004
A moving ceremony took place on Thursday October 7 at the National Museum of Australia to welcome back to this country Aboriginal ancestral remains which had been held mainly in the Museum of Ethnography, Stockholm, Sweden, since they were collected during a Swedish scientific expedition in 1910-11.
NMA's Repatriation Director, Michael Pickering, congratulated the Swedish Government and its participating museums "for being the first to actually initiate a return". This followed research by Swedish anthropologist Dr Claes Hallgren who documented the well-known remains from the Kimberley region, and discovered forgotten remains in other Swedish museums from Camperdown in Victoria, Urandangie in Queensland, and Bermagui in New South Wales.
Matilda House welcomed people to Ngunnawal Country, especially the delegates who have represented their peoples in negotiations with the Swedish and Australian governments since the request "that our ancestral remains ... be returned to their spiritual country in accordance with our religious customary rights and duty of care" was agreed to by the Bunuba, Walmajarri, Juwaliny, Nyika/Mangala, Ngarinyin, Wangkatjunka, Gooniyandi, Djringanji/Yuin, and Kirrae Whurrong/Gunditjmarra nations.
Senator the Hon. Amanda Vanstone, Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, spoke glowingly of the work of the Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Culture Centre in accepting the responsibility for this effort, and praised ATSIC Commissioner Rodney Dillon for finalising the details of the return from Sweden. Senator Vanstone remarked that it was only 1910, a little more than 90 years ago when the remains were taken from Australia. "My grandmother," she said, "was a young girl at that time. This is not long ago."
"The return of these artifacts and ancestral remains today is a concrete example of how we can mend the effects of the wrongs of the past when there is a spirit of generosity, goodwill and understanding", she said, also stating that the Australian Government, which provided funding for the research into the remains and to send delegates to Stockholm, is committed to the return of more Indigenous remains being held in public institutions around the world.
On behalf of the Swedish Government, Mr Jorgen Frotzler, Counsellor, Embassy of Sweden, suggested that the removal and now the return of the ancestral remains showed that attitudes were changing. In Sweden, he said, when Dr Hallgren's book was published, people felt "something was wrong and something had to be put right".
Following an emotional thank you speech by Kirrae Whurrong/Gundtijmara delegate Joe Chatfield, surrounded by the whole group of delegates, Andrew Alberts performed a song written by himself and Sean Howard for the occasion in the Gunditjmarra tradition, reproduced here with the authors' permission.
Wattah Wattah Wattah ...
You came, you saw
You touched, you broke our lore.
From a dreaming they were woken
Now the truth can be spoken
Dispossession from strong connections
Can you understand
How it feels.
Wattah Wattah Wattah Wattah ...
This land our Mother
She asks our brothers
To come ... To take you home
We knew this day would come
We won't forget you ... Never forget you
The land you're from.
© Frank McKone M.A., F.A.C.E.
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