The return of these remains to country has become a paramount part of reconciliation and healing deep wounds within communities.
Programs that return cultural materials to communities reflect a change in broader and institutional culture which has altered our view of collections and their purpose within our society.
There has been a re-humanising of remains in collecting institutions, and a recognition of Indigenous cultures as ancient, rich and still dynamic. There is also a growing respect and sensitivity about how cultural materials are handled.
The NFSA, from the former location of the Australian Institute of Anatomy, is working with communities to redress wrongs and heal cultural rifts and damage.
Finding appropriate and respectful ways to return culturally sensitive material takes time, research and consultation. But the results can be affirming and life-changing for those involved.
New policies, procedures, and practices are bringing together communities and institutions which had been widely divided in their views and perceived needs. With greater respect and understanding, collaborative projects can help restore and maintain knowledge (see Further Reading, below).
Collecting institutions no longer see Indigenous cultural materials as exotic and endangered curiosities, representing something which is 'lost' and to be studied. Instead, these materials and their associated intellectual property offer immense value towards healing, learning, and reclamation of culture.
The journey of returning cultural materials also takes us on a path towards true reconciliation.