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An Illinois museum will return 42 aboriginal artifacts to Australia

The 42 objects are important to the Aranda and Bardi Jawi people that live in Australia. They range from sacred and ceremonial artifacts to boomerangs, shields and body ornaments.

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Members of the aboriginal groups will be traveling to Illinois in October to repatriate the artifacts.

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“Returning these items — it’s just the right thing to do,” Illinois State Museum director Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko said in a statement. “Not only is this exciting from the standpoint of getting to be the first to return culturally significant items as a part of this program, this repatriation will serve as a model of successful collaboration and best practices for other museums.”

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The museum is the first institution in the world to return aboriginal artifacts under the Australian Government’s Return of Cultural Heritage Project, the museum said in the statement. That initiative is attempting to return over 95,000 artifacts of Australian Indigenous groups from over 200 institutions around the world.

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“These objects will be returned to Country where they will be used in the maintenance and revival of cultural practices, and support intergenerational knowledge transfer,” Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) CEO Craig Ritchie said in a news release. “It is important that many more of these objects start to come home.”

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The artifacts were collected by University of Chicago linguistic anthropologist Gerhardt Laves between 1929 and 1931, according to the museum’s statement. In 1942, the University transferred them to the museum. They were last put on exhibit by the museum in 1981.

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The move to return the artifacts began in December 2018 when AIATSIS contacted the museum. They engaged in a 10-month dialogue that included consultations with the First Nations groups.

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Museum Curator of Anthropology Dr. Brooke Morgan told CNN photos of the artifacts were then sent to the First Nations community. They were then asked if they wanted the materials returned to them.

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They did, and it turns out, some of the artifacts in the museum were sacred, and should only be viewed by certain members of the First Nations community.

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