State museum returns artifacts to indigenous groups

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA)– The Australian Government has an ongoing Return of Cultural Heritage Project. The Illinois State Museum became the first institution to submit items to the program Wednesday, giving back a piece of history indigenous groups said they will cherish forever.

With the signatures of leaders of the State Museum and the Consul General of Australia in Chicago, 42 artifacts are headed back to Australia from Springfield.

“In this instance you have an example of Australian indigenous artifacts traveling halfway across the globe by the hand of a well-intentioned and perfectly embraced anthropologist but we look forward 100-plus years and know that those are lost materials,” said Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko, director of the Illinois State Museum.

Leaders said Wednesday’s ceremony was about righting a wrong by giving artifacts like boomerangs and ceremonial shields back to descendants of the people they belonged to.

“The artifacts that we are taking back are very, very important to us. For my tribe, it means a lot to me. The artifacts here are part of our life. That’s our life and our strength for our homeland,” said Braydon Kantjira, representing the Aranda peoples.

The artifacts have been in Illinois since 1941. Members of the Aranda and Bardi Jawi tribes hope Wednesday’s exchange will open the door for similar actions in the future.

“The message I’d like to give to the other states and museums is, you know, like thanking them that they kept all of our stuff in the museums and we hope one day that we will come together and do the same thing we did here in Illinois,” said Kantjira.

The men who traveled to Springfield said this will be their first time seeing and learning about many of the artifacts. They are excited to show them off to everyone at home in Australia.

The Australian government is funding the project in hopes to bring thousands of artifacts back from institutions overseas. They also hope to build a database of aboriginal items collected from this initiative.

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