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Charles Merrill: Returning the Sacred Stone

Compiled By GayToday

cmerrillright.jpg - 8.55 K Kevin Robert Boyle (left) and Charles Merrill, a gay environmentalist, are helping raise funds for the Torre Sraits in the South Pacific Connoisseurs of Native American art have increasingly chosen to repatriate material in their collections that is sacred to the tribe of origin.

It is not uncommon in such cases for returned material to be carried or mailed many miles, even across the continent. But last fall, one North Carolina gay man initiated a trans-Pacific dialogue that resulted in the return to central Australia of an Aboriginal churinga stone.

Charles Merrill, a gay environmentalist, did not at first realize how revered and powerful to its Aboriginal group of origin the churinga stone actually is. He had decided to return it so that it could be sold to raise funds for the protection of an island in the Torre Straits.

The Island is sacred to traditional Aboriginal women, and was being threatened with the development of a vacation resort. Once he began a dialogue with the repatriation office of the Central Land Council in Alice Springs, Australia, however, he learned that the churinga stone is too sacred and too powerful to be sold under any circumstances.

Mr. Merrill began his search for the rightful recipients of the stone by contacting the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies in Canberra. He was referred to the Central Land Council in Alice Straits. Mr. Merrill was eventually asked to mail the object.

He was given careful, specific instructions regarding its packaging, not only for protection against breakage, but also for the protection of those handling and opening the package containing an object potentially distressful and even dangerous to those who are not traditionally allowed to see it.

For Merrill, who inherited the stone from his late wife, Evangeline Johnson Merrill, the repatriation of sacred material to Indigenous peoples is very important, and has a spiritual relation to his work as an environmentalist.

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Mimiga Wajaar
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Merrill and his long-time companion, Kevin Robert Boyle, are the founders of Citizens Against Discrimination a nonprofit organization formed to protest anti-gay resolutions in the rural south (USA) and has since expanded it's purpose to work for social good and for the health of the environment.

After coming across the Repatriation Foundation's web site, Merrill wrote about his return of the churinga stone:

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Member of the Aboriginal tribe Mimiga Wajaar
Photo Courtesy: Mimiga Wajaar Web Site

"Healing our environment is not just about protecting virgin land from development. It is about respecting the traditional culture of human beings, and to merchandise sacred ritual objects under the label of "primitive art" is an egregious act of philiistinism."

At this writing, the Central Land Council, which now has custody of the stone, is in consultation with senior Aboriginal leaders and Aboriginal Traditional Owners regarding the appropriate region and people for its return.

For more information contact Kevin Robert Boyle
Citizens Against Discrimination
Telephone: 828 685 9673

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