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Sweden to return Aboriginal remains

Extract from Australian Broadcasting Corporation - ABC Online, on 27 November 2003


Sweden has agreed to return the remains of 13 Aborigines it collected illegally in Australia almost 100 years ago.

Sweden will be the first European government to return Aboriginal remains, Australian and Swedish officials said.

"This is a very powerful event for us," commissioner Rodney Dillon of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission told reporters at the National Museum of Ethnography in Stockholm, where the remains are being kept in storage.

"Our spirits, and who we are, come directly from these people," he said.

"We're happy for the spirits of these people that they're coming home to the country where they were born."

"I can't tell you in words the amount this will mean to the Aboriginal community."

Aborigines believe that the dead cannot rest in peace unless their remains are buried in their homeland.

The 13 skulls and remains of two skeletons will now be examined by Swedish and Australian experts to determine their identities.

The remains will then be repatriated some time after October 2004.

They are known to come from two regions in Australia, the Kimberlies and northern Queensland.

The remains were removed from their graves against the will of their families and brought to Sweden by scientists Yngve Laurell and Eric Mjoeberg, who conducted expeditions between 1910 and 1913.

According to Mr Dillon, the remains of some 10,000 to 15,000 Aboriginals are believed to be spread out around the world, and only about 1,000 have so far been returned.

"A fair amount" of those still abroad are located in France, England and northern Europe, he said.

Mr Dillon said Sweden's handling of the issue contrasted sharply with the "long and drawn-out process" experienced in Britain.

While the Edinburgh Museum had returned 440 sets of remains five years ago, the Natural History Museum in London has refused to return the remains in its possession.

Earlier this year, the Manchester Museum returned four Aboriginal skulls to the community to which they belonged.

Yet the Swedish Government remains the only government in Europe that has agreed to adopt a policy of repatriation.

"We'll be putting this country on a pedestal in our negotiations with other countries," Mr Dillon said.

He said special smoking ceremonies would be performed on the remains in Stockholm to release their spirits before their repatriation to Australia.

A similar ceremony would be held upon their return to welcome them home.


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