Repatriation of remains rights wrongs

The remains of seven Miriuwung ancestors have been laid to rest in the East Kimberley in WA’s far north after almost a decade of negotiations to bring them home.

The Yawoorroong Miriuwung Gajerrong Yirrgeb Noong Dawang Aboriginal Corporation — MG Corporation — held a ceremony last week in Kununurra to return the remains to Country.

The remains were taken by collectors from parts of Miriuwung country, including around Kununurra, the Keep River and south of Lake Argyle.

Many of the bones had been stored in the WA Museum and Museum of Victoria since the early 1900s, while others were collected as recently as 1972.

MG Corporation deputy chairperson Helen Gerrard said some of the remains were believed to be ancient. Others were less than 100 years old.

Ms Gerrard said the collectors ranged from amateur ornithologists to local police officers.

“Due to their ignorance of local cultural practices, there was speculation among collectors about whether the discovery of bones in sacred caves and spaces indicated that this was a burial site or a crime scene,” she said.

“In other cases the cultural significance of the remains was obvious, but they were removed anyway because they were in the way of industrial development.

“While the handling of the remains was insensitive, in some cases collectors sent them to the museums in the belief they would be safe.

“Regardless of any good intentions, moving the remains showed an indifference to Miriuwung culture and it’s hoped that this repatriation goes at least some way to healing this transgression.”

The remains were sent to Fitzroy Crossing in 2010 after almost 10 years of negotiations by the Kimberley Aboriginal Law Culture Centre and were collected by two MG elders just over a year ago.

It was eventually decided the remains would be buried together and the repatriation ceremony was held at the Kununurra cemetery.

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