A United Kingdom museum has returned cultural heritage items to an Aboriginal community in Australia.
Manchester Museum met with a delegation from the Anindilyakwa community of Groote Eylandt, an island in the Northern Territory, on Tuesday to formally give back 174 items.
The decision to do so came after a three-year consultation process between the museum, an Australian land council and a national Indigenous institution to determine where the items should live.
Deputy Chair of the Anindilyakwa Land Council Thomas Amagula said the return of the items are already supporting the community’s cultural strengthening and revitalisation.
“The Anindilyakwa Land Council represents the 14 clans who are the Traditional Owners of the land and seas of the Groote Archipelago, and the repatriation of the Worsley Collection by Manchester Museum is an important step for the ALC in pursuing one of our core visions: to ‘protect, maintain, and promote Anindilyakwa culture’,” he said in a statement.
“We have only just begun to appreciate how valuable the repatriation of the Worsley Collection will be in the future.”
A group of dolls made from shells were among some of the items returned and has already inspired the creation of a contemporary art program run by ten women.
Australian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom Stephen Smith said the return of the “significant cultural heritage items is important for Australia’s reconciliation process”.
“It also helps renew cultural practices and safeguard such practices and items for future generations,” he said in a statement.
“Returning this collection of items to representatives of the Anindilyakwa community and the children and grandchildren of those who made them is a great thing.”
Head of exhibitions and collections at Manchester Museum Georgina Young said the handover was unlike any other in the museum’s history.
“Having spent time on Groote Eylandt at the invitation of the Anindilyakwa People makes reaching this point of handover feel momentous in a different way to any of Manchester Museum’s past returns,” she said in a statement.
“Sitting with Elders and hearing them discuss this collection on the their land in their terms has enabled me to understand and care in ways not possible in a store room in Manchester, and brought us to a place of understanding together.
“We are excited by all that this return makes possible in terms of future partnership, but more so by how it supports Anindilyakwa cultural strengthening for years to come.”
United Kingdom museums have faced calls to return items forcibly taken during British Colonialism.
China’s state media most recently called on the British Museum to return about 2,000 artefacts. It has the biggest collection of Chinese antiquities in the Western world.