The first in a series of hand-over ceremonies to be held at UNE took place on Thursday, February 13, when Indigenous ancestral remains were returned to representatives of the Dunghutti Nation in a repatriation ceremony by local Anaiwan people.
CEO of the Kempsey Local Aboriginal Land Council Greg Douglas said while he was part of the Dunghutti people, he was not an Elder.
"This sort of thing is evidence that nothing about our culture was sacred, and it was all open game for everyone and anyone to remove evidence of us being on country and having some sort of significant relationship with our land," he said.
"I need to qualify as well, there are a lot of walking tracks to this place that have been walked many times by many people over many years, we've had such a long and powerful and friendly relationship with this community ... as we do with everybody else.
"I sincerely hope that this moment is a catalyst for all institutions like this."
The partial skeleton was discovered and removed from a sand dune at Stuarts Point near Kempsey and was part of the university's Cultural Collections since the 1960s.
UNE vice-chancellor Professor Brigid Heywood apologised for the university's role in holding the precious remains.
"While we cannot change the past, we can show our commitment to healing, well being and reconciliation through our actions, now and into the future," she said.
"It is deeply important to this university that any conversation about our collection is not only one within this university, but is one in which we invite, welcome and indeed require the community to participate.
"The most important of our holdings are Indigenous ancestral remains, which UNE is committed to ensuring are respectfully and appropriately returned to their communities."
Mr Douglas said the repatriation was really difficult in a number of ways for his people.
"We embrace our ancestors, we feel them. They're happy that we're here and they're happy that they're coming with us," he said.
"Part of the confusion is, exactly where it is that we need to take them to. It's not an easy decision to arrive at in terms of the provenance, which includes the precise location that was never relaid.
"Just to let you know, we've been involved in this for a long time in our area. Our elders in the past have picked places where we can take our ancestors who have been removed from country.
"We can put them in a safe place, and while it's not a 100 per cent guarantee, it's pretty pretty close that they'll never be disturbed again."
He said Dunghutti Elders had decided where the people would be taken to.
"This is not over, because there's more than these things here that belong to us," Mr Douglas said.
"Unfortunately, we had to leave someone behind because of that uncertainty and until that gets changed we're going to wait and we'll come back in the future and bring the appropriate people to assist and achieve that outcome."
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