Letter: Rights of Aborigines

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The Independent Online
Sir: The story of the Australian Aboriginal Chief Yagan's head and its imminent return to Australia (report, 13 April) seems like an exotic tale of ancient history.

Yet this is a far from isolated incident; Anti-Slavery International has many historical documents detailing this barbaric treatment. A letter from a Mr I. W. Willis, dated 1839, informs his parliamentary patron that he has shot a Maori, saying his head will be 'a beautiful and curious ornament for the handsomest room in your house', adding that 'if you would like the head of a female, I shall have great pleasure in supplying you'.

The return of these remains is well overdue, and we can only applaud the fact that they are to be returned to their rightful resting place. For Australian Aborigines, Yagan's head carries great significance and its return is a vindication of their basic human rights.

However, the complexities of how this return is carried out must not be overlooked; there are traditions within the communities on who collects the dead, and when and where they are buried. Anti-Slavery International has received complaints from Yagan's Nyungah people on the way the return of the head has been handled; it is important that indigenous customs are not ignored. The rights of Australian Aborigines must be respected, otherwise we are as much at fault as Mr Willis and the colonialists of the recent past.

Yours faithfully,

LESLEY ROBERTS

Director, Anti-Slavery

International

London, SW9

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