What remains? Reconciling repatriation, aboriginal culture, representation and the past


This paper uses the repatriation and ceremonial reburial of Indigenous remains to La Perouse, an Indigenous community in Sydney, as a lens through which to examine the cultural politics of representation and recognition that are central to contemporary Aboriginal identity construction. The return of the skeletal remains of 21 individuals highlights the role that representative bodies - past and present, individual and organizational - play in engagements between the State and Aboriginal people. Heralded by some as a sincere sign of reconciliation and treated as suspect and misguided by others, the reburial produced diverse responses from both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people alike. Speakers at the repatriation focused on righting the wrongs of the past, reconciliation, and moving forward in cooperation, suggesting the redemptive significance of these events. Among Kooris at La Perouse, debates about community, representation, and belonging expose the ways that Aboriginal people and communities operate through, against, and beyond 'whitefella' structures of recognition to define who they are and what their culture is.

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