Memorandum submitted by Mr Martin Wyness
Thank you for our conversation on the telephone
the other day, and for giving me this opportunity to say a few
words to yourselves about the ancestors remains that are held
in boxes in our museums.
I first felt my ancestors when I was little
boy. It was whilst playing lazily in an old tree. It was warm
and the bark smelt safe and familiar. A feeling came over me,
that I was not alone. I knew instinctively that I was experiencing
something important. Of course I did not know then it was my ancestors.
It was not till much later that I realised how much they meant,
not only to me but also to millions of others.
Later, with difficulty I learned to write. The
teacher told me that one day I would write all sorts of important
things. She never prepared me for this letter though. She never
explained that one day I would be writing to people that I had
never met, pleading with them for the peace of all those who have
been removed from the earth. It is a strange thing to have to
do, and speaks many things about modern life.
I have already written to you on how we took
other cultures human remains back here to museum basements, to
a kind of limbo in a box. We all know that this is not right and
perhaps something will be done soon to return those ancestors
In those same basements are many thousands of
our own ancestors, their fate less certain and their limbo perhaps
seen as permanent. One curator told me that he too was descended
from these shores and as such he has a right to collect any ancestors'
remains from here, that they are his as well. Our difference is
that I do not wish to own those remains, only to respect them.
How can one man own the bones of another? One day will an institution
have the legal ownership of my bones, of your bones?
A Native American once said something that I
badly translate here "the difference between a white man
and myself is that the white man carries his laws in courts, whilst
the Indian carries his around in his heart". The fate of
these ancestors is one such example of a law that should be in
all our hearts. We know that museums have the legal ownership
of many human remains, yet, deep down we also know that this is
not possible, that they belong with the earth. I therefore ask
this Committee to consider guidelines for the eventual return
of all human remains to the ground.