Message of Greeting by Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock at the Return-to-Country Ceremony bringing four artefacts back to the Kaurna people

03.05.2024 - Speech

I wish to acknowledge the Kaurna people as traditional custodians of the land we are meeting on today and respect their spiritual relationship with their country.

I wish to acknowledge that their cultural and heritage beliefs are still as important as the living Kaurna people today. I also wish to recognise any other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are attending today’s event.

A bark peeler, a club, a spear and a fishing net.

At first glance, these seem to be just everyday objects.

But each of these items holds countless stories. Stories about how the Kaurna people lived over 150 years ago.

How they hunted, how they fished, how they provided for their families. How they honoured the land they lived on – their land.

These artefacts tell your stories, the stories of your ancestors of many of the men and women present here today and their families.

That is why the Kaurna people reached out to Saxony in Germany to ask for these artefacts – for their stories, their heritage – to be returned.

These stories also tell the history of European colonisation.

When European settlers arrived on the Adelaide Plains, almost 200 years ago, they did great harm to the Kaurna people.

They took away their rights and banned them from speaking their language. As a result, by the 19th century, the language was considered almost extinct.

We do not know exactly how these four items came into the possession of German missionaries in the late 1830s.

However, we do know that the two missionaries who sent them to Dresden had also learned the language of the Kaurna people. They had written a dictionary that became the basis for the later revival of the Kaurna language.

And yet, the fact that the missionaries sent these artefacts to Germany was part of the problem. With every piece sent away, a part of the identity of the Kaurna people was lost.

As Europeans, we might never be able to understand what the deprivation of your land and history means. However, please believe me, when I say, as well as the German parliamentarians who are travelling with me today - when we say, that we know how important it is to have roots.

Penny Wong just put it very astutely when she said that sharing your history can be painful but it is needed for building a future together.

In Germany, we have started a larger process to acknowledge the significance of cultural heritage. We strongly support the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which recognises their rights to protect and develop their cultural heritages.

To me, this international commitment goes hand in hand with another one:to be open and reflective about our own past. And to be willing to listen - to those who suffered the loss of their cultural heritage during European colonisation.

The return of the Benin Bronzes to Nigeria and the returns of ancestral remains to Australia mark important steps in these efforts: to listen, to reflect and then: to act. Together.

Penny, I would like to thank you for your trustful cooperation on this. We acknowledge your government’s efforts to respect and celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledges and cultures.

I would also like to thank the Dresden State Art Collections for their unwavering commitment.

Dr Scheps, I would like to personally thank you. Because every journey takes leadership. You have been working with the Kaurna for over a decade. And it was you who actually brought the artefacts to Australia last year, after our plane broke down.

Today, after a long journey, we are bringing these items home to where they belong. Back to the Kaurna people.

Let us share their history, let us share your stories. So they keep on living.

Like your language - which 150 years ago, was considered almost extinct.

We just heard that the language is alive again.

Today, young boys and girls anywhere in the world can also go on YouTube and watch “Kaurna with Tiyana”, where Tiyana, a teenage girl from Adelaide, teaches other kids to speak her language.

I learned that “Ngaityalya” means “thank you”.

So I say: Ngaityalya. Thank you for welcoming us. And most of all:

Thank you for sharing your history and your present with us.


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