An Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ceremony

The road to Indigenous repatriation

How we can better understand the conflict between scientific and Indigenous knowledge?
For more than 60 years the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC had stolen ancestral remains in its collection. It was only recently that the bones were repatriated. This story kicks off our conversation for this event, which focuses on the roles of film, history and culture in advancing the repatriation debate.

There is ongoing tension around the world between Indigenous communities and the international museum sector. Museums have often been reluctant to return artefacts and human remains that have featured prominently in their collections or displays for decades.

Indigenous people argue that these items are ancestral remains that belong to them and should be brought home. Recently the Smithsonian Institution repatriated stolen ancestral remains, after having them on display for more than six decades.

The collection and exhibition of artefacts and human remains can be a painful reminder that colonialism is an ongoing presence, with a future as much as a history. As the Indigenous repatriation debate continues, film is a powerful tool for giving both sides an influential voice and building bridges on the road to respectful repatriation.

Etched in Bone is a film that explores the role of Aboriginal leadership in repatriating ancestral remains, and it places film documentary within the complexity of Indigenous knowledge, its preservation and its precariousness.

Join the filmmakers and academic experts for a discussion about museum collections, international repatriation, and the ethical complexities of their interaction. 

This event was co-presented with United States Studies Centre and was held on Wednesday 10 April, 2019 at the University of Sydney. 

The speakers

Béatrice Bijon was a Senior Lecturer in English Literature and History at the University of Lyon (France). She is now a Visiting Fellow at the Australian National University. She has edited several books on literature and travel, and is co-author of Suffragistes et suffragettes (Suffragists and Suffragettes) recently published in her native France. She was curator of the "Deeds Not Words" exhibition at the National Library of Australia (2018). Béatrice Bijon started working in Arnhem Land in 2012, leading to her involvement in the Etched in Bone project.

Martin Thomas is a cultural historian who specialises in Australian, Aboriginal and trans-national history. He has published in the areas of environmental history, cross-cultural encounter, expeditions and exploration, and on the impact of sound recording and photography. He won the National Biography Award in 2012 for The Many Worlds of R.H. Mathews. Martin Thomas is Professor of History at the Australian National University. He has been doing collaborative work in Arnhem Land for the last ten years.

Professor Jakelin Troy is a Ngarigu woman whose country is the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales. She is currently Director, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Research at the University of Sydney. Throughout her life she has worked on issues of language loss and regeneration – work which has frequently taken her into the archive to search out words, people and ideas.

Aaron Nyerges is a Lecturer in American Studies at the US Studies Centre. He holds a PhD in English from the University of Sydney and a BA in Creative Writing from the State University of New York. His work focuses on the relationship between literature, media and geography. His research appears in Textual PracticeSound Studies, The Australasian Journal of American Studies, and The Journal of Popular Culture, as well as in numerous edited collections. 

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