Repatriation, a glossary

How to talk about repatriation is a key concern of the Repatriates project. The glossary below is a non-exhaustive list of terms that come up in the context of repatriation. There are normative ways to define these terms, and the glossary offers short consensual definitions. However, these meanings are always led by context; they can shift and have shifted in the past. Beyond quick definitions, the glossary also offers the opportunity to explore some of the contexts that have shaped these meanings. Within the project, the team is not preferring particular terms, but adapting to the processes and contexts of each particular case. When possible, we refer to objects, groups, and places by their names to avoid relying on terminology fabricated within a Western framework.


  • Ancestral remains
    Ancestral remains: alternative to ‘human remains’ bringing in the element of family and direct lineage
  • Appropriate
    Appropriate: to take without permission or consent; to seize, to use without having proper knowledge or understanding of a particular object, property, culture, or right
  • Artistic research
    Artistic research: a form of knowledge production whereby artistic practice contributes to academic thinking


  • Belonging
    Belonging: a term that can be used as an alternative to ‘artefact’ or ‘object’, to bring back the dimension of connection and ownership in response to terms perceived as more neutral.  While belonging has been a popular alternative in recent years, it has been criticised because it is connected to the notion of proprietorship, which is not always inherent to things. It can be ambiguous to use belonging without a clear understanding of original ownership. To steer clear of epistemicide, we choose to refer to belongings or objects by their given names when possible.


  • Community
    Community: a group of people interacting within a geographic space and sharing common values, beliefs, or behaviours.
  • Cultural Property
    Cultural Property: property designated by a state as being of importance for archaeology, prehistory, history, literature, art or sciences  Cultural property has been used less in recent years because of the constructs around the concept of ownership and property. In its more common uses, cultural property also evokes materiality. The immaterial aspects, cosmology, and agency of objects can therefore be overlooked when referring to cultural property.


  • Heritage
    Heritage: practices, places, collective memories, traditions, and objects that people individually or collectively wish to preserve and pass on to the next generation to perpetuate national or cultural identity.
  • Historical justice
    Historical justice: typically distinguished between retributive justice, where trials are conducted to clear certain past actions; restorative justice, where action is taken to favour disadvantaged groups; and transitional justice, where symbolic processes are engaged within the framework of long-term reconciliation.


  • Immaterial
    Immaterial: a term used interchangeably with ‘intangible’ when talking about heritage. Immaterial refers to the social and cultural aspects of heritage that cannot be translated through objects.  The term evolved in reaction to the focus on historic and artistic  value imposed by material heritage. Talking about immaterial heritage implies the inclusion of value in identity and memory, and takes a step away from the Eurocentric focus on heritage. However, material and immaterial heritage are closely intertwined, as material objects can take on immaterial properties and agency.
  • Indigenous
    Indigenous: a place based culture that has remained in its homeland.  Different groups use First Nations, Aboriginal, and indigenous, according to context. The definition can be nuanced to account for the fact that people and their relationships to places are not always clear-cut. Indigenous can thus be expanded to include people with collective ancestral ties to a place that have remained connected to their homeland.
  • Intangible
    Intangible: Intangible cultural heritage is the breadth of traditions and expressions passed down along generations, including  oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts. Institutions such as UNESCO put a strong focus on the idea of transmission when talking about intangible cultural heritage. It can also be referred to as ‘living cultural heritage’, a term that encapsulates the human dimension and solves the dichotomy between the material and the immaterial.


  • Long term loan
    Long term loan: a loan made to contribute to the borrower’s permanent collection, usually for a period of 3 to 5 years.


  • Market country
    Market country: a country that buys cultural property
  • Museum
    Museum (and more):According to ICOM, a museum is a non-profit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment. Art Museum: art museums are generally concerned with aesthetic value of objects such as paintings, sculpture, and decorative arts. This means that objects in art museums are often taken out of context. Ethnography Museum: a museum where the focus is on culture rather than chronology or aesthetics.In colonial countries, these were often museums to display the culture of other peoples, often from a Western perspective and in problematic ways. Many of these displays are being rethought in the process of decolonisation. Universal museum: often a self-described definition, universal museums have collections of art and/or cultural items from around the world. The term implies that they cover the broadest possible range in terms of their collections, and act as an encyclopaedic repository. These were often 19th-century institutions, established at the height of colonial times. The term universal museum is also used for museums focusing on science or technology


  • New originals
    New originals: art works made in response to restitution processes in the Repatriates project


  • Ownership
    Ownership: legal possession over tangible or intangible property


  • Property
    Property: a thing or group of things belonging to someone. Legally, the term refers to the right to own and use something


  • Rematriation
    Rematriation: Rematriation has been proposed as an alternative term to repatriation due to the patriarchal and proprietary connotations of repatriation. In some definitions, rematriation is said to imply  far more than the legal transfer of ownership over cultural materials, but connotes the many ways that people can be reconnected to cultural and spiritual practices and homelands. For some, it implies a feminist framing  that directly links to more feminine aspects of culture, over the dominance of patriarchal ideas of ownership.
  • Repatriation
    Repatriation: the process by which cultural objects are returned to a nation or state at the request of a government.
  • Restitution
    Restitution: the process by which cultural objects are returned to an individual or a community
  • Return
    Return: overreaching term going beyond the technical differences between repatriation and restitution  Repatriation, restitution, and return are mainly distinguished through variations in the process. They can be partial or incomplete, and do not necessarily imply a circular process. For instance, objects can be returned to a state but not to a specific community. This makes a significant difference in the reception and reaction to the returns. In addition, these terms fail to convey the spiritual significance of the relationships between people, objects, and nature, and the cosmology surrounding them. We acknowledge this and will strive to represent this spiritual aspect in the project.


  • Source country
    Source country: a country that produces a high volume of cultural property


  • Visual and Digital Repatriation
    Visual and Digital Repatriation: the process of providing visual or digital copies to the community or country of origin, instead of the original material. It could be more appropriate to talk about visual and/or digital return, as repatriation can imply a more complete process which the provision of images cannot replace.