Return of the Ngarrindjeri: Repatriating Old People Back to Country

01st June 2006

Christopher Wilson

BArch(Hons), Department of Archaeology, Flinders University, October 2005

I am Ngarrindjeri. My father is Ngarrindjeri. My grandfather is Ngarrindjeri. It is through this lineage that I identify as Ngarrindjeri and have the right to speak as a Ngarrindjeri person. I have also been granted the right to speak by Ngarrindjeri elders who I have worked with on this research. From the perspective of a Ngarrindjeri archaeologist, I consider aspects of the process of repatriation of Old People from museums to Indigenous communities. A central part of my research is a case study of the return of 74 Old People from Museum Victoria to the Ngarrindjeri nation in August 2004.

This thesis contributes to contemporary debates on repatriation and reburial within the discipline of archaeology, as well as providing a valuable resource for the Ngarrindjeri community. Privileging community voice and opinion and recognising the value of Indigenous expertise and knowledge in this research has provided specific insights into the implications of repatriating Old People to Indigenous communities. I argue that the repatriation process operating in the Australian context is still in an early stage of development. It is a process that does not adequately support Indigenous communities in their efforts to ensure that their Old People are laid to rest.

An important outcome of my research has been the development of a culturally appropriate research methodology that highlights and acknowledges the importance of working in negotiation and collaboration with Ngarrindjeri elders. Traditional methods and approaches to archaeology involving Old People have been decolonised and in their place a different framework has been developed. This will assist other Indigenous archaeologists working with their own communities, as well as non-Indigenous researchers.

I found that the research process, the methodology, is at least as equally important as the research topic. I have learnt through the research process that the terms ‘negotiation’ and ‘collaboration’ move beyond the simplistic meaning of an ‘interview’ between the ‘researcher’ and the ‘researched’ to a process of kungun and yunnan between my ‘elders’ and I as the ‘young Ngarrindjeri person’. As a Ngarrindjeri archaeologist, I was not only assessed as a ‘researcher’ under the structure of the university; elders who contributed to the research also assessed me as an Indigenous researcher working with my community. Furthermore, I was also undergoing cultural training as a ‘learner’ through assessment and examination by my elders.

This in-depth and self-reflexive examination and exposure of my own identity and a critique of the archaeological training I received as an undergraduate student, has contributed to the transformation in the way I speak and write about my own people – the Ngarrindjeri. In conclusion, the research I have undertaken has been a journey that parallels the main topic of this thesis; along with the return of my Old People to Ngarrindjeri Ruwe (country) is the return of myself to my community.


Christopher Wilson
Return of the Ngarrindjeri: Repatriating Old People Back to Country
June 2006
Thesis Abstracts
You must be a member to download the attachment ( Login / Sign up )