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Our history

The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) was originally established in 1964 as the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies (AIAS) to preserve traditional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures before they were lost forever.

After 57 years, and in the context of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural and social resurgence, we stand as a testament to the living and vibrant story of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the important place this has in our nation’s story.

Our history is summarised in the following timeline.

1961. More than 50 scholars establish an institute and interim Council to record endangered Aboriginal cultures.

1964. Act of Parliament passed. The Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies (AIAS) established. Preserves unlimited components of traditional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures before lost forever.

1967. More than 90% Australians vote ‘YES’ for Aboriginal legislative and constitutional recognition.

1970. 1st Aboriginal Council member, Alawa man Philip Roberts.

1974. Funding training of Aboriginal people in AIAS research projects approved by Council.

1976. 1st Torres Strait Islander Council appointment, Ephraim Bani.

1986. AIAS becomes Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS).

1984. Small grant from AIAS to Edward Koiki Mabo. Records traditional boundaries, Mer Island, Torres Strait.

1992. High Court of Australia recognises rights and interests of the Meriam people to their lands. AIATSIS establishes the Native Title Research Unit. 1st female Chair of Council, Bidjara woman Marcia Langton.

1994. Award winning The Encyclopaedia of Aboriginal Australia produced. 2000 entries from 200 researchers.

1996. The AIATSIS Map of Indigenous Australia was first published as a wall map

2008. Australian Parliament apologises to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples for profound grief, suffering and loss inflicted by national law and policy.

2015. Launch the AIATSIS Foundation by the Governor General, the Hon. Sir Peter Cosgrove and Lady Cosgrove. To develop partnerships and raise funds supporting/extending the AIATSIS’ work.

2016. Parliament introduces changes to AIATSIS legislation. AIATSIS given explicit role providing advice to the Commonwealth on the situation and status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and heritage.

2017. CEO, Craig Ritchie, leads the Australian Government delegation to the tenth session of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

2018. Working towards the establishment of a National Resting Place for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander remains. Start Return of Cultural Heritage scoping project.

2019. 1st observance of UN International Year of Indigenous Languages. CEO, Craig Ritchie, co-chairs UNESCO steering committee.

2020. Start Return of Cultural Heritage initiative, returning material held overseas to Australia.

2021. 60 yrs after first conference leading to the establishment of the institute, AIATSIS & the SA Native Title Services & Kaurna Yerta Aboriginal Corporation host the AIATSIS Summit.