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First Aboriginal remains to be returned from U.S.

SYDNEY (Reuters) - A group of Aboriginal elders on Saturday left Australia for the United States to bring home the remains of 33 ancestors from the Smithsonian Institute, the first Aboriginal remains to be returned from the United States.

Aborigines have fought for decades for the return ofancestral remains from overseas universities and museums wherethey have been taken for scientific and anthropologicalstudies.

Aborigines have inhabited Australia for some 45,000 yearsand have the world's longest living culture. They believe thattheir spirit can not settle until it is reunited with theirland, which they regard as their mother.

"Sixty years after leaving our shores, these are the firstindigenous Australian remains to be returned from a majorAmerican institution," said Indigenous Affairs Minister JennyMacklin.

The remains of 33 Aborigines from the Gunbalanya and GrooteEylandt communities in Arnhem Land in northern Australia areheld in the Smithsonian Institute's National Museum of NaturalHistory.

In 1948 the American-Australian Scientific Expedition toArnhem Land collected the remains of 46 Aborigines from fourcommunities in Arnhem Land; Gunbalanya, Groote Eylandt,Yirrkala and Milingimbi.

Aboriginal elder Jacob Nayinggul from Groote Eylandtbelieves the collection may include the remains of theirgrandmothers.

"Most of us can only begin to imagine how the grandchildrenand great-grandchildren must be feeling, knowing that aftersuch a long time they will soon be able to lay their ancestorsto rest," Macklin said in a statement.

On their arrival in Australia, Aborigines will stageancient welcoming home ceremonies before laying the remains torest in private ceremonies.

The return of the ancestral remains follows the recentreturn of three remains from Britain to the Ngarrindjericommunity in South Australia earlier in this month.

The Australian government is currently negotiating therepatriation of indigenous remains with a number of countries.

(Reporting by Michael Perry; Editing by)