Harvard holds the remains of 7,000 Native Americans and 19 enslaved people, leaked draft claims
The Harvard Crimson The student newspaper says it has obtained a leaked draft report in which Harvard University acknowledges that it holds the remains of four likely enslaved people who had not previously been accounted for, bringing the number to 19 total human remains of possibly enslaved people in the school’s collections.
Previously, the university had only recognized the remains of 15 people of African descent who were likely enslaved. The recently discovered remains are of people from Brazil and the Caribbean. The draft report also says Harvard still houses the remains of 7,000 Native Americans, whom the university had previously admitted and pledged to prioritize “stewardship.”
A Harvard spokesperson declined to provide Hyperallergic with a copy of the draft report.
“Our collection of these peculiar human remains is a stark representation of structural and institutional racism and its long half-life,” reads the project’s introduction, according to the crimson‘s June 1 report on the project.
The draft, dated April 19, was produced by the university’s Steering Committee on Human Remains in Harvard Museum Collections, a group formed in January 2021 and made up of 16 scholars and museum professionals.
In a statement announcing the committee last year, Harvard President Lawrence Bacow said the university had the remains of more than 22,000 people, mostly in the collections of the Peabody Museum of Archeology and Ethnology and the Warren Anatomical. Museum. The statement also states that Harvard holds “one of the largest collections of Native American remains in the nation.”
According to crimson, the draft report urges the university to return the remains of enslaved people to their descendants or communities of descendants. He also insists that the university should expedite the return of Native American remains to their tribes or descendants, which has been required since 1990 by the federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).
“For too long, these remains have been separated from their individuality, history and communities,” the report read, adding that provenance research will require community consultation and may include DNA analysis.
“The best outcome of provenance research would be the identification of lineal descendants but, if this is not possible, research should aim to determine descendant or affinity groups that have a social, emotional, familial or direct local to the individual, which are people who feel a direct responsibility or interest in the individual themselves,” reads the draft report.
Last January, the university issued a formal apology on behalf of President Bacow and the Peabody Museum for “not confronting our historical collecting practices and management of all these human remains” and for its “failure as an institution to confront the ethical and moral issues underlying the practices that brought them to our museum.
This apology stated that Harvard had only returned the remains of 3,000 Native Americans of the 10,000 the university once held.
The Peabody Museum has a committee dedicated to the return of Native American remains and says that since October 2021 it has “developed a systematic and comprehensive program for administering NAGPRA”. But the leaked text appears to show that since the January 2021 apology, little progress has been made in returning the remains.
In a statement shared with Hyperallergic, Steering Committee Chair Evelynn M. Hammonds said the crimsonThe leaked draft post was “deeply frustrating.”
“Release of this project is an irresponsible report and robs the committee of the finalization of its report and associated actions, and jeopardizes the thoughtful engagement of the Harvard community in its publication,” Hammonds said.
The leaked draft comes as Harvard has begun to publicly address aspects of its racist history. Last month, the university released a report acknowledging its role in slavery, revealing that Harvard had enslaved more than 70 people.
The report also detailed Harvard’s racist practices after Massachusetts outlawed slavery in 1783: it explained how Harvard continued to benefit financially from slavery in other states, how its scholars advanced racist pseudoscience, how it continued racist practices in its admissions processes and how the university continues to honor eugenicists and slave owners.
The report was accompanied by a pledge of $100 million to study and address the university’s legacy of slavery, but some critics felt the pledge was insufficient. In an op-ed for Hyperallergic, Franco Paz, a Harvard doctoral candidate who worked as a researcher for the Committee on Harvard and the Legacy of Slavery, wrote that the university “still, to this day, benefits from diets abusive and coercive work”.
Harvard has yet to return the photographs of Tamara Lanier’s slave ancestors, which are part of the Peabody Museum’s collection and commissioned in 1850 by Professor Louis Agassiz, who used them as part of a eugenics campaign. After asking the university for the “ad nauseum” photographs, Lanier sued the university in 2019. The lawsuit is ongoing.