Repatriation and multilevel heritage legislation in Canada and Australia: A comparative analysis of the challenges in repatriating religious artefacts to indigenous communities

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademic


In recent years the debate over indigenous rights on the international law level has significantly gained in strength. While progress has been made, especially with the adoption of the united nations declaration on the rights of indigenous people, many issues remain unresolved. One of these issues is the question of whether, and if so how, to repatriate objects to indigenous communities from which they were taken, often centuries ago. The interests and problems are manifold, ranging from property interests, to cultural conservation, to human rights concerns. Likewise, the nature of objects which can be claimed ranges from household items, to religious artefacts, to ancestral remains. This paper analyses the repatriation debate in relation to sacred ceremonial/secret objects on the national level, focussing on the experiences of australia and canada. Both of these federal states are members of the commonwealth with common law systems, and are the home of indigenous groups who have lost objects during colonialism. These commonalities enable a comparison which is especially useful given the different positions that first nations hold in the canadian society vis-à-vis aborigines in the australian context, and the different repatriation experiences and legislations in the respective systems. By contrasting the two countries with each other and by highlighting problems against the background of current international law developments, a threefold goal is realised. First, the description of the mechanisms relevant to repatriation claims in canada and australia can stimulate a discussion on how far recent experiences in both systems could prove mutually beneficial. It will be highlighted that neither system has sufficient federal legislation needed to encourage repatriation. The attitudes of their respective museums also differ and could gain from an exchange of experiences. Second, it is submitted that an analysis of the hurdles to the repatriation of sacred objects highlights certain prejudices which continue to permeate the legal systems. Third, the chapter maps the ground for further study in the wider repatriation debate.keywordscultural heritageindigenous communityaboriginal heritagetorres strait islander peoplelegislative powerthese keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationArt, cultural heritage and the market: Ethical and legal issues
EditorsV. Vadi, H. Schneider
Place of PublicationHeidelberg
ISBN (Print)978-36-4245-093-8
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014


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