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First Peoples

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples should be aware that this resource may contain images or names of people who have since passed away.


The Return of Cultural Heritage Project 2018-2020 report details the outstanding success of the AIATSIS-led Return of Cultural Heritage project in returning Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage material from overseas to Country. The report includes a summary of project activities, key findings and lessons learnt, as well as our engagement approach and return processes. Additionally, a brief discussion of relevant issues and research regarding repatriation have been included.

Key Findings:

  • The project aimed to facilitate and secure the return of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage materials, including but not limited to objects, photographs, manuscripts and audio visual records held overseas for the purpose of cultural renewal, revival, support and maintenance.
  • There is a strong desire from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to have their material home and a willingness from overseas collecting institutions to support this. There is a role, and need for, an independent government agency with cultural authority, such as AIATSIS, to facilitate and negotiate future return requests.
  • Repatriation is complex and difficult, with parties separated geographically, socially and culturally. Even when institutions are able and willing to repatriate material, the process is resource intensive and time‑consuming.
  • Partnerships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, collecting institutions and governments are key to ensuring the successful return of cultural heritage material.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples want to tell their own stories and repatriation is a crucial part of shifting the power to Indigenous communities in order to do this. By inviting Indigenous communities into collecting institutions through repatriation, a space is created where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are empowered and they can provide both context for, and another layer of, understanding of those objects while telling the stories that need to be told.

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