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Updated 10:00 AM June 21, 2004



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Finally going home

Henry Atkinson, Bob Weatherall and Bonnie Ekdahl participate in a ceremony June 16 at the Ruthven Museum to repatriate to descendants the 10,000 to 15,000-year-old remains of ancestors of the indigenous peoples of Australia. The remains, consisting of four human bones, never were part of a University collection. U-M was asked by a private collector—Ted Bailey of Ann Arbor, an engineer who is one of the world's leading authorities on boomerangs—to facilitate the repatriation of the remains, which were in his possession.

(Photo by Marcia Ledford, U-M Photo Services)

The University subsequently accepted the remains in order to help achieve their repatriation, and now, following a sustained effort by U-M of more than five years, the ancestors will begin their journey home. It is only the third time remains from the United States have been repatriated to Australia.

"We need to put them back in the land so they can become one with the Earth," Weatherall said.

Atkinson and Weatherall officiated at the repatriation ceremony. Atkinson, an elder of the Yorta Yorta peoples (Murray Darling Basin, New South Wales/Victoria), has a traditional affiliation with the Yorta Yorta Remains. Weatherall is a Gummilaroi man (Murray Darling Basin, Queensland) who will serve as custodian of the other ancestors who were returned.

Ekdahl, of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, the director of the new Ziibiwing cultural center in Mt. Pleasant, and Shannon Martin, who works at Ziibiwing and is a member of the Gun Lake Potawatomi Tribe, performed a "smudging" ceremony. An eagle's feather and burning sage are used in the ceremony to honor the spirits and cleanse the surroundings.

Museum of Anthropology representatives who were involved in the repatriation included C. Loring Brace, professor of anthropology and curator of biological anthropology at the museum; John O'Shea, professor of anthropology, curator of Great Lakes archaeology, and repatriation coordinator; Carla Sinopoli, professor of anthropology, associate director of the museum and curator of Asian Archaeology; and Karen O'Brien, collection manager. Assistant Professor Stuart Kirsch of the Anthropology Department also was involved.

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