Society for East Asian Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
My research addresses changes in the relationships between Indigenous peoples and museums in comparative perspective, specifically between Ainu, the Indigenous peoples of Japan, and the Indigenous peoples of Australia, namely Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders. Recently a Japanese government report revealed that there are more than 1600 human remains of Ainu held in public institutions, national universities as well as some museums, around Japan. But the repatriation process remains very slow and has been heavily criticized by Ainu people. This paper will discuss what kind of circumstances have complicated the repatriation process, with a specific comparison to Australia.
In Australia the situation began to change in the 1970s and from the 1990s onward, Indigenous communities have taken an active role and their participation in museums has changed dramatically. Especially concerning matters of repatriation, a guideline for museums was published, and it has become mandatory for public institutions to repatriate the human remains held in their collections to the original owner or area unconditionally.
As I discuss, these changes have made possible by the particular social conditions of Australia. In Australia, 1) The relationship between Anthropology and Museums is historically strong, and 2) Indigenous peoples maintain a significant presence in Australian public life. Thus, it is my tentative hypothesis that various social factors interact to encourage a favorable public attitude toward repatriation which has crucial importance. Finally, I will discuss what might be necessary to cultivate “public understanding” to make Indigenous repatriation possible in Japan.