Harvard University holds human remains belonging to 7,000 Native Americans though a 1990 federal law bars that very thing, according to a draft report from a school committee commissioned to look into the issue last year. The unfinalized report from the Steering Committee on Human Remains in Harvard Museum Collections, published by the Harvard Crimson, calls on Harvard to speed up the repatriation process and find lineal descendants or descendant communities to receive human remains of another 19 people of African descent who were likely enslaved. "Our collection of these particular human remains is a striking representation of structural and institutional racism and its long half-life," the draft report, dated April 19, reads.
Prof. Evelynn M. Hammonds, who chairs the committee made up of museum curators and faculty, said it was "deeply frustrating" that the student paper chose to release an "outdated version" of the report. Harvard's Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnography already acknowledges holding the Native American remains. A museum committee has been working to repatriate 10,000 remains in total since the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act took effect 32 years ago, per the Washington Post. But only 3,000 remains have been returned since that time. Peabody Director Jane Pickering formally apologized for the sluggish pace more than a year ago as she joined the steering committee.
The remains—including of 15 individuals who were likely enslaved in the US and another four who were likely enslaved in the Caribbean and Brazil—"were obtained under the violent and inhumane regimes of slavery and colonialism" and "represent the University's engagement and complicity in these categorically immoral systems," according to the leaked report. "For too long, these remains have been separated from their individuality, their history, and their communities," it adds, recommending "further provenance research" and possible DNA testing "for the express purpose of identifying lineal descendants." It also recommends a committee determine how to treat 15,000 other human remains in the Peabody's collection. (Read more Harvard stories.)