Returning to Yarluwar-Ruwe: Repatriation as a Sovereign Act of Healing

Steve Hemming, Daryle Rigney, Major Sumner, Luke Trevorrow, Laurie Rankine Jr, Chris Wilson

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Ngarrindjeri Yarluwar-Ruwe (Sea Country– lands, waters, body, spirit, and all living things) was annexed by the British Empire in 1836 and is today located in the south-east of the State of South Australia (see Figure46.1). There is no treaty through which Ngarrindjeri Yarluwar-Ruwe was formally ‘acquired’ by the British colonisers, nor has there been one since Austral-ian Federation in 1901. Ngarrindjeri claims for recognition of native title are yet to be fully accepted as part of the Australian native title claims regime. Given this political context, it is not surprising that Ngarrindjeri bodies and burial grounds have been treated as the property of the settler-State and the broader scientific community. It was only in the early 2000s that recognition of what is described in Australia as ‘traditional ownership’ began to be accepted by government agencies in relation to Ngarrindjeri lands and waters. Two early examples centred around Old People’s remains– one a burial ground near the mouth of the River Murray and the other the repatriation of Old People from Museum Victoria (see Hemming and Trevorrow 2005; Hemming etal. 2008; Hemming and Wilson 2010). As Ngarrindjeri leaders negotiate for self-determination, and a ‘just settlement’ of Ngarrindjeri Yarluwar-Ruwe, the protection of burial grounds and the repatriation of Old People’s remains from museums is always a significant part of this political work. The rights of the Old People remain an issue for the living. Justice and respect for Ngarrindjeri ancestors is a litmus test of the health of relations between Ngarrindjeri and non-Indigenous interests.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRoutledge Companion to Indigenous Repatriation
Subtitle of host publicationReturn, Reconcile, Renew
Editors Cressida Fforde, C. Timothy McKeown, Honor Keeler
Place of PublicationAbington, Oxon, UK
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9780203730966
ISBN (Print)9781138303584
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Ngarrindjeri
  • Repatriation
  • South Australia
  • Burial grounds

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