James Cook University Returns Indigenous Artifacts to Australian Aboriginals

James Cook University, located in North Queensland, Australia, has initiated a repatriation project to return indigenous art and artifacts held by the university. Extensive research has been done to make sure artifacts are returned to the correct traditional group owners and returned in the culturally appropriate way.

Professor Rosita Henry advised the following, by way of ABC News:

“It’s the right thing to do; but also it’s the right time.”

“In the past, it was very much about the repatriation of human remains, but now there is a real push towards the repatriation of cultural heritage objects.”

Dennis Hunter, a member of The Djabugay people (also known as Djabuganydji or Tjapukai)—a group of Australian Aboriginals from the wet tropics of Northern Australia—was given a wooden boomerang said to have been made by his grandfather. The return of this item could help reinvigorate his culture, Hunter said.

“I was looking forward to today; I was never going to miss it.”

“History, culture, that’s connected … I’m connected to that boomerang. Something that’s meaningful and special.”

“It’s a good start of a relationship where we can get more information like this, given back to community, getting more community people involved. There are many materials out there; they’re still in the process of trying to get back and trying to bring it back to community. It should be back home where it’s safe. It’s been taken away from there and it’s finding its healing place.”

The university also returned a stone axe and photographic slides.

Djugan elder, Charles James Archer, was given back two bark paintings he created in the 1970s. He stated that one of his paintings depicted a spiritual creature with stories across several traditional owner groups.

“I had no idea at all that they [paintings] still existed. It’s a good feeling for me, but not only that, it’s for my family as well.”

“They can look at the painting and they know what I’ve been telling them all along about learning how to paint the stories.”

Professor Henry is working on returning more artifacts in the future.

Until Next Time…


Photo Credit: ABC News

Richardson, H. (2022, October 23). James Cook University returns Indigenous art, artefacts to traditional owners in Far North Queensland. ABC News. Retrieved October 23, 2022, from https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-10-24/james-cook-university-returns-indigenous-artefacts-artwork/101559084 

Aboriginal Culture and History. Djabugay or Tjapukai People. Homeschooling Group Hug. (2021, December 13). Retrieved October 23, 2022, from https://homeschoolgrouphug.com/aboriginal-culture-and-history-tjapukay-or-djabugay-people/ 

Welcome to DJABUGAY ABORIGINAL CORPORATIONS. DJABUGAY. (n.d.). Retrieved October 23, 2022, from https://djabugay.org.au 


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