Return, Reconcile, Renew: Ngarrindjeri Rethinking Repatriation

Sunday, 16 February 2014
Acapulco (Hyatt Regency Chicago)
Daryle Rigney , Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia
Steve Hemming , Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia
Robin Boast , Flinders University, Adelaide, Netherlands
Fifty years after the First Fleet arrived in Botany Bay the founding documents for the establishment of the British Province of South Australia (1834) promised a just settlement for the original Indigenous habitants and their descendants. Those original commitments were not honoured and South Australia looks today very much like the other Australian States; land taken without consent, without a treaty and where the pre-existing sovereignty of Indigenous peoples was ignored by the South Australian Company in its executive action to establish the Province of South Australia. This presentation considers the original promises made in the Letters Patent in the context of contemporary moves by Ngarrindjeri people to seek repatriation of ancestors stolen from burial grounds on Ngarrindjeri lands.

Indigenous campaigns for the return of human remains have been a significant instrument of change in professional practice in museums and other cultural institutions including universities over the past thirty years.  Repatriation, however, remains a contentious and often traumatic issue for communities, museums, universities and governments as a result of the continued retention of Indigenous human remains.  In 2008 preliminary discussions were held between representatives of the Ngarrindjeri nation and the Natural History Museum London about the repatriation of Ngarrindjeri Old people’s (human) remains held in the collections of the NHM. The Ngarrindjeri want to build on this earlier discussion with the NHM for the return of the Old people from a position which recognises and enacts the promises made by the early British colonists.  The sovereign position taken by the Ngarrindjeri nation, through the negotiation of contract agreements with the South Australian Government on other issues, paves the way to rethink repatriation as a process of renewal. Renewal that moves beyond neoliberal biopolitical ‘solutions’ of human remains access management to acknowledgment of a wrong, the resetting of boundaries on the exercise of power and as a collaborative effort to interrupt colonialisms continuities.