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Sweden returns Aboriginal remains

Extract from Australian Broadcasting Corporation - ABC Online, on 1 October 2004

Sweden has returned to Aboriginal elders the remains of 15 of their ancestors taken from Australia for scientific research a century ago.

"There is much relief with regard to the whole repatriation process, but there'll be more to come on Australia's shores," a spokesperson for the Aboriginal delegates, Joey Chatfield, told AFP.

"There'll be stronger emotions in Australia. There'll be tears in our eyes there. We're still a long way from home here," he said.

The 13 skulls and skeletal remains of two other Aborigines will be put on a flight to Canberra.

Sweden is the first continental European nation to return Aboriginal remains, which explorers and scientists stole by the hundreds in the 19th and early 20th centuries for supposed studies into racial evolution.

The 15 remains in Sweden, taken primarily from the Kimberley region of Western Australia, were handed back to an 11 member Aboriginal delegation from Western Australia, Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria.

Before they were handed over, a smoking ceremony was held outside on the lawn of the museum to release their spirits, where a ring of stones now marks the holy site.

"The smoking process needed to take place. It's part of our spiritual burial laws in this particular situation, because the remains have been put in foreign hands. They needed to undergo the cleansing process," said Mr Chatfield.

The 15 remains were taken 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.

They wanted to study the remains due to their belief that Aboriginals were living examples of stone age men, according to Swedish anthropologist Claes Hellgren.

A book he published a year ago about the expeditions started the ball rolling for the repatriations.

Lotta Mjoeberg, a relative of Eric Mjoeberg who attended the ceremony, told AFP that she grew up with a feeling that she could help right the wrongs that were done long before she was born.

"I have met many of these Aboriginals in their homes, and I have apologised for what was done," she said.

"It is fantastic that I could make a small contribution, offer a kind of healing. I think many people are now going to find peace in their graves," she said.

"Perhaps even Eric."

Australian officials hailed Sweden's cooperation in returning the remains.

"There has been excellent cooperation between all the parties involved in the repatriation, from the governments, museums and communities," said Australia's ambassador to Stockholm Richard Rowe.

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