Aborigines in UK to stop bone tests
Leaders visit High Court to stop scientific tests on ancestors' skeletal remains.
Last Modified: 20 Feb 2007 10:48 GMT
Aborigines have had success retrieving the bones of their ancestors from Australian museums [EPA] 

Australian Aboriginal leaders are travelling to London to give evidence in a High Court case aimed at stopping UK scientists carrying out tests on the skeletal remains of their ancestors.
Victorian scientists were fascinated by Aborigines and stole or seized skulls and skeletons from graves and mortuaries in the 19th and early 20th century.
Clyde Mansell, chairman of the Aboriginal Land Council of Tasmania, said before flying out of Australia on Tuesday: "I wonder how they would feel if we dug up the bodies of their grandparents and started drilling into their skulls and taking out their teeth, pretty upset I'd imagine."

Thousands of remains

Mansell said he would give evidence to the court on Thursday against Britain's Natural History Museum, which has agreed to return the remains of 17 Aborigines but not until DNA tests, imaging and measurements are conducted.

The Australian government has urged the UK since 2003 to return the Aboriginal human remains following the release of a British report recommending the nation change its laws to enable museums to hand back body parts collected centuries ago.

The Foundation for Aboriginal and Island Research Action, an Australian lobby group, said that in 2003 British museums and institutions held about 5,000 Aboriginal remains, while thousands more were held across Europe and the US.
Only a small number of Aboriginal remains have been returned.

The Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre has been awarded custody of the remains of 17 Aborigines taken from Australia's southern island of Tasmania and last week won an injunction against any further testing by the Natural History Museum in London.

Mansell said: "These are our people and the scientists at the museum have done enough damage to our people.

"I am going to London for one reason, to bring my old people home. I am sick of scientists claiming rights over our dead."

"Barbaric practices"

Bob Weatherall, an Aborigine who has worked on other cases of repatriation of indigenous remains, said if Australia's Aborigines lost the court case, it would allow other scientists to continue testing indigenous remains.

Weatherall said: "If we lose this case it means that the scientists of the world will have a green light to basically continue their barbaric practices.

"They [scientists] will be able to dig up or to remove Aboriginal remains and take anybody's remains and carry out scientific investigations without their explicit consent."

Australia's 460,000 Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders represent about 2.3 per cent of the the country's 20 million population and are the most disadvantaged group in Australia.

Aborigines suffer higher rates of unemployment, imprisonment, alcohol and drug abuse, and preventable illness.

They also die an average 17 years younger than white Australians.

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