Museum considers repatriation of remains, artefacts

Otago Museum is evaluating a request for the return of Aboriginal artefacts to Australia, but there are no plans to return its Egyptian mummy.

Pressure has been growing on museums around the world to repatriate artefacts and human remains.

This week Canterbury Museum had been forced to consider the return of its collection of Benin Art — the largest in New Zealand and Australia — to Nigeria.

Otago Museum collections, research and education director Robert Morris said the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies had contacted the museum about a small group of items that belonged to a tribe in Tennant Creek in northern Australia, who would be interested in their repatriation.

There was also a longstanding request from a native American tribe in Washington for items of clothing the museum had held for more than 100 years.

The museum had recently developed policies around requests for the return of cultural items, and the requests were being processed, he said.

The return of ancestral remains were considered a main focus.

The museum had been involved in a project to return Maori ancestral remains for some time, he said.

It was the view of museums across New Zealand that ancestral remains should be returned to their communities.

There were no plans to repatriate one of the museum’s most well-known exhibits, an Egyptian mummy.

Any assessment would depend on a claim being received.

There were also political issues surrounding the return of Egyptian artefects that needed to be considered, Mr Morris said.

When it came to the return of items, the key thing was to determine the veracity of the claim.

There had been instances overseas where communities had made a claim for the return of items, which were then sold.

Items needed to be returned for the right reasons, he said.

Museums outside Wellington received no funding to repatriate items overseas, which also created a big financial barrier, he said.

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