Brett Ahmat, Repatriation Program Manager, at his desk in the Indigenous Cultures department.
Source: Museum Victoria
Repatriation Program Manager, Brett Ahmat, travelled to Central West Queensland in October 2009 with some very precious cargo.
He accompanied the remains of two Iningai elders – a woman aged about 50 and a man aged 60-70 – from Museum Victoria to a resting place in their home country of Longreach. The Iningai were one of fourteen groups of people, each with their own distinct language, that traditionally inhabited this region.
The ceremony on 17 October 2009 coincided with a Landcare Conference hosted by Desert Channels Queensland (DCQ). This community-based group works with all those concerned with the future of the Lake Eyre Basin region, including residents, farmers, industry, government and Indigenous groups. DCQ helped Iningai custodians construct the Iningai Keeping Place in 2007 to house the remains of 5 repatriated Iningai people.
The repatriation ceremony began with a funeral procession to the Keeping Place. A large number of the wider Longreach community attended the ceremony, however only the Iningai Custodial Family were allowed to enter the Keeping Place, which they prepared to receive the remains with a smoking ceremony. It was the culmination of a repatriation request by Iningai Custodians David Thompson, and his father, David Thomson Senior.
In the past, objects and remains belonging to Indigenous people were collected by museums as curios and for anthropological study. These collections were often unauthorised and disrespectful of the significance of the material to its owners. The Return of Indigenous Cultural Property program (RICP), a commonwealth funded program of the Department of Environment, Water and the Arts, facilitates the return of this material from museum stores to the cultural groups from which it came. “Under Victorian legislation, we are identified as the repository for ancestral remains from other museums, universities and the coroner’s office,” Brett explained. He feels that returning the ancestral remains to the Indigenous people in Longreach was not just fulfilling the requirements of RICP, but it was meaningful and powerfully symbolic.
The museum’s efforts to identify and return Indigenous material are active and ongoing. This year, the Indigenous Cultures department began new consultations with Victorian Indigenous communities about material held in the collection. “It’s about building better relationships with traditional owner groups,” continued Brett. “Communities are always thinking about repatriation, and it’s becoming more of a reality.”
Video, audio and photographs of the repatriation ceremony are online at ABC Western Queenland.