British museums currently hold over 33,000 items of Australian indigenous heritage. On the road to Britain's exit from the EU, a project funded by the Australian government hopes that this will change the approach to returning these sacred artifacts to indigenous communities.
In November 2019, the Manchester Museum became the first British museum to return some of these items. Since then, however, many other leading British museums have been reluctant to return sacred artifacts as this could affect their collections.
Craig Ritchie, director of the Australian Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, said Brexit is a strong moment in history and is a new opportunity for Britain to rethink its relationship with indigenous Australians.
He said: "If it is true that Brexit is more than just getting out of a political union with Europe and is actually an expression of Britain's attempt to rethink its place in the world independent of Europe, part of it is the opportunity to rethink and recalibrate the relationship between Britain and its former colonies and … the indigenous peoples in these former colonies. "
He added: "Not everything will come home and probably not everything should" and added that it was ready to consider alternative arrangements with British institutions. He also noted that the final resting place of these artifacts was "a decision that should be made by the community of origin and not just by a stubborn white institution that refuses to return things".
17 of the 38 UK institutions that responded to an Aiatsis survey two years ago said they were ready to consider a return request.