Is Repatriation an Ideology? Reviews of “that book”, i.e. Weiss and Springer.

A few weeks ago, The European Journal of Archaeology published three book reviews of the same book. That may seem a bit unusual, but the book in question, Repatriation and Erasing the Past by Elisabeth Weiss (a professor of anthropology at San José State University) and James W. Springer (a retired attorney and anthropologist), can without exaggeration be called one of the most controversial academic publications in recent years. It is important to realize is that this book is not a traditional piece of academic writing characterized by curious exploration and scholarly pursuit of a complex topic. Instead, it is an explicitly argumentative text that centers on the position that repatriation is is harmful to research. By building a case against repatriation, the authors seek confrontation with other stakeholders, not dialogue.  The law that is scrutinized in the book is the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) that since it was signed into US federal law in 1990 has transformed archaeological and museum practices in the United States and their relationships with Native American communities, most would say, for the better. 

Given the impact of NAGPRA, and the ways in which it today is perceived as having had a positive transformative effect on research and museum practices, many archaeologists and biological anthropologists have felt the urge to go on the record about this book. I am one of them. The other two reviewers in this issue of EJA are Joe Watkins, archaeologist, member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, and senior consultant with Archaeological and Cultural Education Consultants, Tucson, Arizona, and Chip Colwell, archaeologist, former senior curator of anthropology at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and founding Editor-in-chief of SAPIENS. Both their reviews are important and insightful and provide thoughtful and initiated critique.

“Nearly every sentence of Repatriation and Erasing the Past is strewn with mischaracterizations, inaccuracies, misleading assertions, false claims, or hyperbole.”

Colwell, 2021 review of Weiss and Springer, European Journal of Archaeology 24(4), p. 582

Colwell’s piece focuses on fact checking. In a scathing critique he argues that it is simply impossible to account for all the mistakes in the book. To illustrate his point, he selects a single page of the book – page 211, the first page of the volume’s conclusion, a choice he argues is “fair to the authors” since it sets out to summarize the central content and arguments of the book. His devastating scrutiny, that proceeds sentence by sentence of that one page, reveals a steady stream of mischaracterizations of NAGPRA and of academic sources and citations, misleading statements about the support of NAGRPA in the scientific community and its effect on research and collections. After noting that he is running out of words, he concludes: “Nearly every sentence of Repatriation and Erasing the Past is strewn with mischaracterizations, inaccuracies, misleading assertions, false claims, or hyperbole.”

Watkins starts his review with a very important personal anecdote: 

On December 18, 2020, the University of Florida Press sent a memorandum in an email to its publishing partners, including authors (such as I) who have published in the Press. The memo was an apology for ‘the pain this publication has caused. It was not our intent to publish a book that uses arguments and terminology associated with scientific racism’ (Gutierrez, 2020: 1). However, the Press noted that ‘to withdraw the publication at this point, as some have called for on social media and in other forums, is to attempt to hide it and to hope that simply retracting the book will cause the viewpoint to cease to exist.’”

Watkins, 2021 review of Weiss and Springer, European Journal of Archaeology 24(4), p. 571.

This anecdote is significant because it shows both how much debate this book immediately caused, but also – and this is especially important – the enigmatic position of the publisher. How come, I wonder, did an academic publisher not understand that this book was going to be problematic? The book has already been the subject of intense criticism (see for example Halcrow et al 2021; Kakaliouras 2021; Sassaman 2021; ), and calls have been made to cancel the authors, in particular when they have appeared at academic conferences, which in turn has spurred responses from the authors. While it can be argued that everybody has the right to their opinion, it does not automatically follow that they also are entitled to a book contract. So what did University of Florida Press really think would happen?

While I continue to wonder about the decision to publish this book, I still feel that it is more important to take on the issues it presents in open debate to demonstrate the flaws of their argument, rather than to silence its authors. This is especially important as I see this publication as part of a larger context of a reactionary backlash against progressive critical work in academia today, including postcolonial theory, critical race theory, and gender and sexuality studies, all under fire from conservative politicians and debaters across Europe and the US (see for example the development in the US, Denmark, Poland and Hungary). We note how the argument of protecting “academic quality” often is used to squash intellectual critical theory that challenges conservative political ideologies, and the same reasoning can be found in the book by Weiss and Springer where they systematically characterize repatriation as “an ideology.” In this sense, the book about repatriation in the US can be understood as a party in a much broader cultural war within and outside of the academy today. 

“Corridors of knowledge” by timtom.ch is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

In my review, which can be read in its entirety in the journal, I advance three critiques against the case mounted by the authors.

My first critique centres on the lack of reflexivity and power analysis, including a lack of recognition of the colonial history and the contemporary relationships between Native Americans and the academy. Today this must be viewed as extremely problematic coming from two anthropologists. The lack of awareness is revealed in a number of ways, including inflammatory statements, a lack of awareness in the use of nicknames given to archaeological finds, and in the unproblematized use of terms like “race,” and even in the uncommented use of photos from colonial contexts.

A second and related problem is the lack of respect for Native American culture. This attitude permeates the book and is communicated through the casual and systematic dismissal of positions about myths, traditional knowledge, Native American cosmology, and so on. The authors argue that science is more objective and rational, and this position can be defended (especially from their own position as radically anti-post- modern). But when they proceed to deduce that a scientific understanding of the world, including of Native American history, is more valuable for humanity, they introduce a judgement that must be tried on its own terms, but they do not explore this issue, probably because they never questioned it. 

These two first foundational principles, imperfect as they are, constitute the foundation for the main thesis of the book: that repatriation is an ideology of victimization—born out of elitist postmodernism—and opposed to the ‘good’ represented in the value of the study of human remains. They argue that this ideology is ‘a modern, political construct and not a genuine reflection of historical Native American cultural beliefs.’ To support this argument they refer to the fact that also Native Americans at times handled human remains, in particular those of their enemies. Why this is relevant for the current debate is not explored or contextualized. The argument that repatriation is an ideology is repeated throughout the book, but never actually intellectually explored or supported.

…just because something affects how you do things, or places responsibilities and boundaries on your actions, does not automatically give you the right to delegitimize it by calling it “ideological.”

But can it really be argued that repatriation is “an ideology”? An ideology can be defined as a set of opinions and ideas held by a group of people. But repatriation is not an idea, it is a practice that is regulated by law and the product of years of negotiation between stakeholders. This practice has affected archaeology, anthropology and museum practices. But just because something affects how you do things, or places responsibilities and boundaries on your actions, does not automatically give you the right to delegitimize it by calling it “ideological.” As research ethics have become more central to our professional practice, there are many practies and protocols that have been regulated, abandoned, and even condemned. In his review of the book Joe Watkins refers to the Nazi medical experiments and to the Tuskegee Study as examples of research practices that we, even though they may contain valuable information, no longer can use – for obvious ethical reasons. The study of human remains obtained through theft and structural, political, and physical violence, must be seen in the same way. What is perhaps the most striking conclusion after reading this book is that the authors simply do not understand that as a researcher you do not automatically have an uncontested right to any materials you find interesting to study. 

Repatriation can and should be discussed, problematized, and interrogated, but if the goal is to ask interesting questions about knowledge production, research ethics, decision making and long-term consequences, then the way forward must be paved with mutual respect and interest. I am grateful that the conversations and debates about repatriation, and the practice and experience of engagement have built a solid enough foundation for these debates to go on, assuring – I hope – that this book will be just a small bump in the road forward. However, in this political moment, it is important that so many archaeologists and anthropologists have spoken out in critical terms about this book to not allow it to define our disciplines. The battles for democracy and ethics are never won. The frontiers must constantly be guarded and maintained. 

Featured image: “Old Books” by ShellyS is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/?ref=openverse&atype=rich

Return of Human Remains? Practices, implications and ethical issues. Report from a seminar in Oslo.

On November 4, 2021 The National Committee for Research on Human Remains (part of the Norwegian National Research Ethics Committee) organized a seminar to discuss the repatriation of human remains and the treatment of human remains in museums.

Several interesting papers brought perspectives to the issue and some raised complex and interesting questions. Reports about productive and successful repatriations from the National Museum of Finland to Mesa Verde in 2020 (presented by Director General Elina Antitila), and from the Swedish History Museum to Lycksele (presented by Adriana Aurelius, PhD student at Umeå University) in 2019, provided good examples of how the practice of repatriation – both international and national – is becoming embraced by Scandinavian museums. As practical support for this process, many attendants referred to international and national guidelines and recommendations as having been central in guiding the process. Kicki Eldh and Gabriella Ericson at the Swedish National Heritage Board presented the work of developing such support documents for Swedish Museums.

But there is diversity in how the issues is being broached in different Scandinavian countries. Ina H. Tegen, PhD student at Aarhus University presented her work on the issue of repatriation from a Danish perspective, where the archaeological and museum communities so far have been less willing to embrace the process, and where decision making regarding archaeological remains in general, including human remains, tends to be very decentralized and relies on individual decision making. At the same time, archaeology has a very high profile in Denmark, engaging multiple constituencies – also outside of the academy. She introduced the concept “embedded stakeholders” in her ongoing work to map attitudes and connections across this complex web.

Other papers sought to problematize the practice beyond the straight forward story and push the boundaries. Asgeir Svestad‘s (The Arctic University in Norway, UiT) paper on the fraught repatriation and reburials of Sámi remains at Neiden and Skjellevik, both in Norway, raised questions about the control of the process and the role of the Church in the reburial of people that predate Christianity. Jonny Geber (University of Edinburgh) presented the complicated case of Maria Grann, a woman who died in her late 20s, probably of tuberculosis, at a hospital in Lund in the 1860s. The few notes that remain of her indicate that she was poor and did not have any relatives in the area. She is described as a “Lapp Woman” or “Lapp Girl” from Lycksele. Most of her body was probably buried in the general area for unclaimed patients, but her cranium was collected to become incorporated in the anatomical collection of the university. It is now at the Lund University History Museum. Despite efforts to establish her identity it has not been possible to trace her history back to the Lycksele area or to a Sámi heritage, and even if there has been some pressure from the media, there is no current claim for her remains to be repatriated. The case, showed both how difficult and heartbreaking provenience research can be, but also how much direct engagement between researchers and descendant communities means to build trust and relationships.

Image from an urban excavation in Norway in the 1950s. When human remains younger than 1537 are not protected by law, can we avoid this kind of unethical handing in urban excavations? Slide from the presentation by Nina Elisabeth Valstrand and Monica Nordanger Enehaug.

Other ethical dimensions of the excavation and curation of human remains were discussed from various angles. Nina Elisabeth Valstrand and Monica Nordanger Enehaug, PhD students from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology discussed how the Norwegian Cultural Heritage Act only protects materials that are older than 1537, often resulting in more careless handling of younger finds, including human remains. This, they argued, is both ethically problematic and a scientific loss since bio-archaeological research on these kinds of remains holds the key to unlock osteo-biographies of the past allowing us to better understand the lived experience of past peoples. Angeli Lefkaditou (researcher at the University of Oslo) discussed the ethics of museum displays of human remains through the case of “Maren i Myra,” an unknown woman who died in the 19th century and whose body, preserved in adipocere, has become a museal curiosity still exhibited at the National Museum of Science and Technology in Oslo.

Finally the paper by Josephine Munch Rasmussen (post doc at the University of Agder) and Vibeke M. Viestad (postdoc at the University of Oslo) problematized the process of repatriation from the Kon Tiki Museum in Oslo. Their study highlights the intricate political dimensions of the creation of Heyerdahl as a national Norwegian hero and “creator” of Rapa Nui heritage and history – an image that persists despite the postcolonial critique of the assumption and despite the evidence of ethically questionable collection practices – and the current agenda to “decolonize the museum” though agreements with the Chilean state, not the descending communities in Rapa Nui. The study shows how the legacy of a problematic collector can live on to the point of becoming an absent present curator even beyond his death. This paper took us to the heart of both why repatriation matters, and why it is important that it is done right. The study has been published in the Journal of Critical Arts.

In their presentation, Josephine Much Rasmussen and Vibeke M. Viestad demonstrated the continued creation in the national discourse of Heyerdahl as a Norwegian National hero and as the creator of Rapa Nui history and heritage.

The seminar was very rich and stimulating. It was positive to see such a thoughtful debate, and also to witness the many ways in which Scandinavian museums and the heritage sector more broadly are entering into an era of engagement with descendant communities through repatriation.

The seminar left me with many insights, but also a few questions. Is it possible that the general embracing of repatriation also can hold new challenges? When a social or activist movement gains ground and becomes mainstream, it runs the risk of becoming appropriated. For the future we must make sure that repatriation does not become a performance carried out by by museums to promote themselves as socially conscious. I must underline that I have not yet seen any evidence for this. The progress made thus far is important, and this potential risk should not be used to question repatriation per se, but rather be viewed as a small concern that we need to keep in mind as we support the process going forward.

“We are the heart, you are the brain”. Report from a seminar on repatriation to indigenous communities

On April 28, 2021, Professor Helene Martinsson Wallin (Uppsala University) and Dr. Olaug Andreassen (National Museum of Oslo) organised a webinar on the topic of repatriation of human remains to indigenous communities.

While the main focus of the seminar was on Rapa Nui, the heritage of Nordic colonialism was present as an important backdrop to the discussion, a reminder to Swedish scholars working with repatriation that there is no “Nordic exceptionalism” when it comes to colonial history, and the Nordic countries were a part of these global processses in all their various forms. Ulrika Persson-Fischier (Uppsala University) used her study of the crania collected by Nordenskiöld’s Vega Expedition to discuss the challenges of working with old colonial records when trying to establish “provenience.” She pointed out the paradox that despite good intentions, we risk reproducing colonial ideologies through the practice of repatriation if we use old records and categorisations. Mikael Jacobsson from the Lycksele Museum of Forestry shared his experiences of the repatriation and reburial of crania collected in from an old cemetery in Sápmi in the 1950s and returned for reburial in 2019. He showed moving images of the ceremony and discussed the difficulty in getting museums to really understand that human remains are not just archaeological and historical artefacts. Finally, the agreement to repatriate thousands of objects and human remains from the Kon Tiki Museum in Oslo, collected by Thor Heyerdahl and his team during his travels in the Pacific in the 1950s and 1980s, provided an immediate connection to the main focus of the webinar – the experiences of the repatriation of human remains to Rapa Nui.

A View of the Monuments of Easter Island, Rapanui, c. 1775-1776 by William Hodges.
Public Domain

Rapa Nui constitutes an interesting example to discuss repatriation. It is caught in complex layers of colonialism and relationships to the state of Chile. Known more widely by the name “Easter Island,” a name given by the Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeween who accidentally “discovered” the island on Easter Sunday in 1722, the island is wrapped up in colonial history. In the decades that followed Roggeween’s short visit, several other expeditions landed on its shores, marking the beginning of a deep and painful colonial history including disease, structural violence, black birding, slave trade, and exploitation. The island was annexed to Chile in 1888. It holds the status of special territory since 2007, but the relationship to the Chilean state has not been without conflict.

From a cultural heritage point of view Rapa Nui is renowned for its monumental Moai, the sculptural heads that line its shores as “the living faces of deified ancestors.” But beyond these striking sculptures, the island is the home of an impressive cultural and archaeological heritage of monumental architecture, petroglyphs, and wood carvings that all can be traced back to the indigenous Rapa Nui. Given its painful history with colonialism, it is not surprising that calls for repatriation of both cultural objects and human remains play an important role in current debates, with the most highlighted example being the call to repatriate the Moai called Hoa Hakananai (lost or stolen friend) from the British Museum. In the process Chile has become a powerful player. Under Chilean law, the Moai are not regarded simply as art or artefacts, but deemed an “integral part of the land”, and in 2017 the control over them, along with other archaeological sites, was symbolically handed over, from the Chilean National Forest Corporation to the Rapa Nui by President Michelle Bachelet.

At the webinar, we would hear several voices engaged in the movement for the recognition of the right of Rapa Nui to gain control of their heritage including the human remains of their ancestors deposited in museums all over the world. Biological Anthropologist Associate Professor Felipe Martinez (Pontifica Universidad de Católica de Chile) discussed the importance of viewing human remains, not only as biological specimens but also as a part of cultural heritage, and stressed the need for a developed legal framework that recognises the rights of indigenous people in this context. Dr Jacinta Arthur (Pontificia Universidad de Católica de Chile), who has worked as the coordinator for the repatriation program in Rapa Nui, introduced the concept of patrimonialization of indigenous culture to the discussion, and discussed how legal instruments can protect cultural heritage for the nation without considering the needs of the indigenous communities to which it belongs.

This becomes especially interesting when unpacking the complexities of international repatriations of indigenous human remains and heritage. Who does this belong to? To where should it be repatriated? Who decides on the future of these remains? Here the relationship between the descending community, be it a majority population, a minority population, or an indigenous population, becomes central. As nation states come to agreements, the opportunities for descending communities may look very different depending on their relationship to the nation state that may or may not recognise their right to control their cultural heritage. Here the issues raised by both Dr Jacinta Arthur and Ulrika Persson-Fishcier (albeit in a different context) come back into focus.

“We are the heart, you are the brain”

These issues are without a doubt complex and difficult. What is the way forward? Curator Sr. Mario Tuki (Museo Antropologico Padre Sebastian Englert MAPSE Rapa Nui Repatriation Program Ka Haka Hoki Mai te Mana Tupuna and Hare Tapu Tu’u Ivi) offered a pathway. In his presentation and in the discussion, he stressed not only the importance of collaboration between scientists and indigenous communities, but also the importance of academic actors to recognise the emotional dimension of the process. Indigenous communities, with a lived experience of trauma from a violent colonial history, will bring a consideration for this emotional dimension. This should not be seen as a complication, but as an asset in the work toward mutual learning and understanding. Academics, on the other hand, will bring a problematizing and intellectual approach to the situation. We need both. “We are the heart, you are the brain,” he declared, proposing a wonderful metaphor for all of us who are seeking a productive way forward. Recognising that both the heart and the brain are vital organs, and that they sustain each other, Mario Tuki’s words leave me inspired and humbled.

image credit banner: Tukuturi, Brocken Inaglory, CC BY-SA3.0

Reaching The Tipping Point – the repatriation of the Morton collection from the Penn Museum

On April 12, 2021, The Morton Collection Committee released a report on their work of examining the ongoing issues relating to the anatomical collection created by Samuel George Morton (1799-1851), physician, natural scientist, renowned polygenist, and originator of the American School of Anthropology. Morton built a collection of 900 crania to provide “hard evidence” for the superiority of the white race, primarily by measuring the volume of the crania, linking the size of the brain to intellectual ability. The work was published in a series of volumes of which Crania Americana (1839), and Crania Aegyptica (1844) are the most well known. Both are renowned for their detailed drawings of the crania (see below), and both publications used the collection to demonstrate the alleged superiority of the “Caucasian race.” The collection is deposited at the Penn Museum since 1966, and it is now time, the report states, to take responsibility for this collection including developing a process for the repatriation of remains to descending communities.

Morton’s studies have been critically discussed by Stephen J. Gould who argued that they were plagued by implicit bias. This study, and Morton’s implicit bias in general have subsequently been discussed by J. E. Lewis et al., Michael Weisberg and Diane B. Paul, and Paul Wolff Mitchell , and while there is scholarly disagreement on the level of “fudging” in the study, there is a general consensus that Morton’s work was underpinned by the racist doctrine of polygenism, and that his ultimate conclusions as well as his casual remarks throughout the texts were openly racist. His work must also be understood in a context in which it provided scientific evidence that supported the American colonial effort, including attempts to eradicate and marginalise the Native Americans, and the economic system relying on both the transatlantic slave trade and on the labour of enslaved people.

Engraving of an Araucanian skull from Crania Americana by Samuel Morton, John Collins (engraver}, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Like so many other anatomical collections, the Morton collection has a complex history. Morton initially collected 900 crania, and after his death in 1851, the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia bought and expanded the collection to ca 1.300 specimens. It was moved to the Penn Museum in 1966. We are familiar with similar transitions of historic collections from medical faculties to history museums (e.g. the anatomical collection transfered to the Lund University Historical Museum in 1995, and collections transferred to Gustavianum in Uppsala in 2009 and 2011, etc). When they are transfered to these museums – they are, in many ways, already a part of our history, being the cultural artefacts of a dark heritage of science. However, the fact that these collections are historical does not automatically neutralise them, and they remain both valuable and problematic. Since 2002 the Morton collection has been extensively scanned (over 17.500 CT scans have been distributed to researchers across the world), and the collection has continued to be used for research (source: PennMuseum/The Morton Cranial Collection).

While the collection had been known and debated as problematic for a long time, it appears that the situation came to a tipping point in the summer of 2020. In the report, the Morton Collection Committee clearly states that it was the events following the police killing of George Floyd on May 25, 2020 and the continuously growing influence of the Black Lives Matter movement and renewed calls for racial justice that prompted the institution to critically examine its history and reevaluate its relationship to the Morton collection.

In the US context, and for researchers who are familiar with the impact of the the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act on archaeological collections there since 1990, it seems almost strange that it took this long for the museum to “reassess its practices of collecting, storing, displaying, and researching human remains” and to provide “a visitation location for human remains that provides a quiet, contemplative space for reconnections and consultation visits in its future plans for rehousing the collections.” But this also demonstrates to what extent our practices are shaped by existing guidelines and legal frameworks, and how remains that are not explicitly subject to these have been able to remain more or less unaffected by the developments in other areas of museum practices with regards to human remains. However, it is also clear that the experience from engaging with NAGPRA over the past 30 years has been valuable as the museum develops practices to handle the current situation. It will be interesting to follow this development as a case study for how human remains in these complex and problematic anatomical collections may be curated and returned in the future.

As this work progresses, we must also remain engaged in continuing to examine how the engagement with these collections is shaped by current events, and assure that remains that are not illuminated by the limelight of current political debates are not forgotten. In addition, we should also ask to what extent new technology, like CT scanning, provides new solutions to old problems, or perhaps creates new problems and new ethical frontiers to examine.

Dead Bodies are Not Neutral Objects. Report from a conversation about dead bodies and their place in museums.


The old photograph shows a mother, looking straight at us, with a child in her lap. The small face of the child is turned upward and the mouth is sightly open, embodying that deep and completely relaxed baby sleep every parent learns to recognise as the body of the child suddenly becomes very heavy your arms. Only, this child is not sleeping. This child is dead. Photographs like this, a last memento of the child before burial, were common in the 19th century and are still made today (although today the practice of taking and showing these photos is no longer as public, nor is it as socially acceptable). Photographs like this remind us that dead bodies are not neutral objects, and that separating from them can be emotional, painful and problematic. Photographs like this also remind us of how our attitudes to the dead are culturally shaped and experienced. Photographs like this can help us untangle why some people feel that it is problematic to keep human remains in museums.

“The body of the dead, is something onto which people project meaning and emotion, and it is culturally varying how that projection happens and at what stage that projection changes. So when we talk about repatriation and reburial, what in the eyes of an archaeologist or a biological anthropologist may be material for research may still very well be perceived by other stakeholders as an individual to which they owe the duties of a proper burial.”

This fundamental realisation was one point of departure for a K-samtal – a structured conversation – on the topic of repatriation organised by The Swedish National Heritage Board on Dec 18th 2020 and led by Kicki Eldh and Ingela Chef Holmberg. The conversation was part of a continuing effort to support Swedish Museums in their work to develop policies and practices for curation and repatriation that live up to “an exemplary international standard.” Part of this effort has also been the development of support documents for the care for human remains in museum collections and in how to handle repatriation cases.

The conversation between Estelle Lazer (University of Sydney), and Liv Nilsson Stutz (me), was led by Kicki Eldh (for a sound file of the full conversation in English, please click here) and drew on international examples to unpack the complex issues of repatriation, indigenous rights, identity politics, the history of science, colonialism and research. The conversation came to circle back to questions such as “What does it mean to keep to an exemplary standard?”; “What can we learn from international experiences?”; and “What theoretical inquiries can help us problematize the issue, and how can we move from academic discourse to action and solutions?

Estelle Lazer shared her experiences from both Australia and Pompeii, and I drew on my work studying and analysing the repatriation debate in the US and NAGPRA (the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act)

“We need to stop thinking about repatriation as a problem to be solved and instead approach it as an opportunity to learn.”

Both Estelle and I agreed that while we can learn from the international experiences, there is not a golden standard that easily can be transferred from one cultural, historical and political context to another. Instead we must educate ourselves and approach the issue with flexibility. To aim for an exemplary standard must be to learn from experiences and competences, and work toward developing legal instruments that are at the same level as international standards, but that are also tailored to fit the Swedish context.

We must also learn how to be critical. Repatriation cases are not always unproblematic. When approaching these complex issues it is important to be aware of this. But first of all we need to become better listeners, because a successful repatriation is not a process that strives only for closure, but one that is approached as an opportunity for collaboration. In other words, we need to stop thinking about repatriation as a problem to be solved, and instead approach it as an opportunity to learn.

Liv Nilsson Stutz

Caption to figure: Mother with dead child, 19th century, probably American. Art Institute of Chicago, CCO Public Domain